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KF #28. Drives Results Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

796: How to Make Progress on Your Most Audacious Goals, Every Day with Grace Lordan

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Grace Lordan offers actionable solutions and tips to help bring you closer to your goals, one step at a time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to free yourself from the fear of making mistakes 
  2. How to break free from impostor syndrome
  3. How to stop stress from hijacking your day 

About Grace

Dr Grace Lordan is the Founding Director of The Inclusion Initiative and an Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.   

Grace is an economist and her research is focused on quantifying the benefits of inclusion within and across firms, as well as designing interventions that level the playing field for under-represented talent within firms.  Grace served as an expert advisor to the UK government sitting on their skills and productivity board, is currently a member of the UK government’s BEIS social mobility taskforce and is currently on the Women in Finance Charter’s advisory board. 

Her academic writings have been published in top international journals and she has written for the Financial Times and Harvard Business Review. Grace is a regular speaker and advisor to blue chip finance and technology firms. Think Big, Take Small Steps and Build the Future You Want is her first book. 

Resources Mentioned

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Grace Lordan Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Grace, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Grace Lordan
Hi, Pete. I’m delighted to be here, and I hope that I am awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, we’ll see.

Grace Lordan
We’ll find out.

Pete Mockaitis
Just kidding. Just kidding. No pressure. I’m excited to hear about your book Think Big: Take Small Steps and Build the Future You Want. But, first, I want to hear about your dog-kissing practices.

Grace Lordan
My dog-kissing practices, yes, I mean, that continues. And for my partner, it’s the most embarrassing thing, I think, ever because it’s not even just in private. It’s also in public. She will give me now kisses when she wants a treat. She gives me a kiss before she goes to bed at night. And, actually, when I want to laugh, I do say to her, “Casey, can I have a kiss?” and she does give me a kiss. So, for people who don’t like dog-kissing, it’s probably a really bad start to this podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I think that’s adorable. My kids, lately, have been asking it at bedtime, “I want 10 kisses,” and I just love it, so. So, dog kisses, yeah, I’ll take those, too, if we had a dog. As long as the dog, I think if it’s a dog you know, that’s cool. I might be a little uncomfortable if it’s like a total stranger dog that looks kind of, you know, ill. I don’t know if I want him kissing me. But if it’s your dog, it’s all good.

Grace Lordan
I think cuteness is a factor as well. You’ve chosen your dog, so you obviously think it’s really cute, but I think some dogs do look quite intimidating. So, yeah, I think stick to kissing your own dog, for anybody listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. We’re already getting actionable wisdom. Thank you, Grace. Well, let’s hear a little bit about inside your book. Were there any particularly surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made while you’re putting together Think Big?

Grace Lordan
There were lots simply because, when I was writing it, I treated myself as an experiment. So, if you read the book, there’s lots of tips that come from scientific research, and I actually tried them out. Some worked for me, and some didn’t work for me, which I think really kind of shows that you should, when you take advice, really figure out if it’s actually working for you.

I think some of the more interesting ones were thinking, for example, about the spotlight effect, how, for me, I have a tendency towards perfectionism, which it sounds wonderful, but actually it isn’t. It’s quite crippling. And learning about the spotlight effect, that people who are paying attention to you in the moment probably aren’t paying attention to you to the degree that you actually think has been quite freeing for me, and I’ve managed to verify that as true.

So, you can take that as depressing or not, Pete, but most of the things that I do, whether I do them well or do them badly, it feels like nobody’s watching, which is very freeing for me, but it could be quite depressing if you thought about it in another way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I’m intrigued. How did you confirm? Did you say, “Hey, you, were you watching me earlier when I was doing this?” Or, how did you put that to the test that you were not really being spotlighted?

Grace Lordan
I think you wait for the legacy. So, if you do things like public speaking, or if you are the person who convenes round tables, sometimes you will have blunders and you won’t say things exactly the way that you wanted to say them. For example, you might not be as clear as you would want. And I used to ruminate on that, and I would ask you, if you were my colleague, who is in the round table, and procrastinate over, “What did you think?” because I’m drawing your attention, so you would probably have a few comments.

But I found out that, actually, not necessarily drawing people’s attention to it, verified for me the people weren’t paying attention to it to begin with. Then, actually, even just leaving a lag to get feedback of one week meant that people have kind of forgotten my blunders and really saw the performance as an average rather than these very small minute things that I was picking up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, zooming out a bit, can you share what’s sort of the big idea or main thesis behind the book Think Big?

Grace Lordan
So, I wanted to write a book that was for people who weren’t able to just upheave their lives to create huge change, because I think, here in the UK, and also in the US, we hear these stories of people who have great success, and it feels like they do it overnight. So, I wanted to write a really, really realistic book but I still wanted to write something where people ended up achieving really, really big things.

So, the starting point is getting people to think big, which really is getting somebody to imagine what their life would be in the medium term, so think years rather than months, if everything worked out and you had no constraints. So, Pete, you mentioned that you have two young kids, you would basically not say, “Okay, I have two kids I have to really factor in their care in this think big.” Instead, you would just imagine, “What if it all worked out?”

And then the second step in that is saying, “Okay, now that I have this vision of myself, what does that person actually do on a day-to-day basis?” So, I think one of the places where we fall down when we’re thinking about our future is that we visualize ourselves doing these kinds of huge big things, so declaring that we have huge earnings in our company if we’re entrepreneurs; imagining ourselves giving a statement if we were a CEO; imagining ourselves doing something else as equally impressive if we’ve gone into another kind of career aspect. But we don’t think about the tasks that actually get you there and the grit on the day-to-day basis.

So, I get people to visualize those, and, assuming that they’re happy with the tasks that they visualize, I ask them to put small steps in place that gets them doing those tasks now. Or, if they’re not able to do those tasks because of a skill deficit, to put steps in place to get those skills. If they visualize those tasks, and say, “Actually, this sounds really horrible. I like the idea of running my own company, but the day-to-day sounds terrible,” then they reiterate the process again. And, fundamentally, it’s about figuring out what you love doing, but also figuring out what you love doing that leads you to something probably bigger than you’re imagining at the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so that sounds pretty quick and zippy, Grace. Is that the case? Or, how long are we talking till we land upon a vision and a plan that feels awesome for people?

Grace Lordan
So, I think it is zippy. I have exercises in the book to get people thinking about the activities they like doing on a day-to-day basis if they don’t know what they want to do so they can map back to a big dream. I have kind of guidance on the type of skills that you need to do particular careers. So, I think the think big part is actually quite…it happens really, really quick. I love the word zippy, by the way. It is actually quite zippy.

But I think the hard part is putting the small steps in place and sticking to those small steps. So, once you get over chapter two and you have this kind of big vision in mind, the rest of the book is devoted to thinking about, “How can you stick to your small steps? How can you find time to do the small steps? How can you overcome your own biases? How can you overcome the biases of others?” And that part of the journey does take time.

And I think most of us as human beings are really…find really easy dreaming of something that we might never achieve, and those small steps are the bridge to actually making it a reality.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And in the book, you’ve got six key areas: time, goal-planning, self-narratives, other people, environment, and resilience. Can you share with us a couple of your favorite tips inside each of these areas that can help us to think big and realize those big thoughts?

Grace Lordan
So, I’ve said this so many times since the book has been written, so it feels like a cliché, but it is something that’s fundamentally true, is that time is the one thing that we can’t get back. It is our most precious resource. And one of the things that I love doing, when I feel that I’m not making progress, is time audits, and I’d encourage anyone listening to do one as well, and really divide…so, firstly, auditing what they’ve on a day-to-day basis, ideally, in 15-minute increments. And then going back and asking yourself, “Which bucket do those increments fall into?”

So, firstly, “Are these things that actually allows me to be happy in the moment or allow somebody else to be happy in the moment, or give some value?” The second are the things that, actually, are investing in your future self. So, this idea of me plus, or the person who you visualize when you think big. And the last are what I call time sinkers, and these are things that absolutely waste your time.

And when I wrote the book, my biggest time sinker is sitting in meetings. I work in the university and the meetings tend to be very, very long. I don’t know about the US, but in the UK, they tend to be very, very long, very, very boring, and no decision ever gets made. A lot of small-stake stuff gets debated. So, for me, that was my time sinker to really focus in on, “Do I need to be at these meetings if nobody is actually making a decision, nobody is listening to me?”

Another time sinker for me was spending too much time on email. For other people, it could be social media, it could be online shopping, but really figuring out what those time sinkers are and re-allocating that time to invest in your future long-term self.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, Grace, I’m curious, if you determine these emails are taking too much time, these meetings are taking too much time, in practice, how does one just ditch them, it’s like, “You know what, not doing anymore. Hey, Dean, or whomever, not going to those meetings anymore”? How do you pull that off?

Grace Lordan
It’s a really great question. So, I think, for me, it’s going to be easier than for a lot of people because one of the benefits of working in the university is they have this thing called tenure, where it’s kind of hard to fire you. So, if no one is listening to you in a meeting, it’s quite valid for you to say to the chair, “No one’s paying attention to me so I’m just not going to show up for this.” And if they don’t change the meeting, I think that’s okay.

I think it’s harder if you have a job where you do have to show up, but, nonetheless, I think it’s possible. So, for people who I know who work in finance and technology companies in extraordinary competitive environments, one of the solutions that they have for the emails is to check emails at particular times during the day.

So, they’re not firefighters and they’re not heart surgeons, so if it takes them 90 minutes to respond to something, it’s not going to be the end of the world. And that batching has been extraordinarily effective for them. On meetings, and we might get into this in a while, in a lot of companies where I’ve kind of been working and kind of doing work about redesigning how leadership should look, is fundamentally is about redesigning meetings to give time back to your team.

So, again, moving away from these forums where we over-deliberate on small-stake stuff to an environment where we have trust, and bringing people together when the big things are at stake, or when you’re creating and when you’re innovating. And in the book, I talk a bit about how you can redesign meetings if you’re in charge of them, but also if you’re somebody who’s low-power, how you can nudge the person in charge to get you there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great turn of a phrase, deliberating on low-stake stuff. And I guess one would need to think through, “Are the low stakes just for me? Is there a low-stake for the company, for the team, or for everybody?” And I think, often, the answer is there’s little stakes for everybody. Maybe someone just doesn’t feel confident enough to make a decision on their own without gathering input. Or, they’re extroverted, they just like to chitchat.

So, I guess there’s any number of reasons why meetings appear that ought not to have appeared, but I think that’s a really great check-in question to work through there in terms of, “Is this, in fact, small stakes for everybody? And are we just talking because here we are and we’re intellectual creatures who have different ideas so we’re going to talk about them because that’s the topic placed in front of us?”

Grace Lordan
I think it comes from a really good place, so I think, as organizations grew, it was hard to build trust in organizations. Because, if we think back a hundred years as things were actually getting bigger, usually, you were just battling a growth cycle, so the idea of putting structure around meetings probably wasn’t something that dawned on anyone, particularly when people were working nine to five and time wasn’t as scarce as it is today.

I think, now, we fundamentally have an oversupply of meetings to discuss small-stakes stuff because we want to be transparent, so it comes from a really good place. So, if, for example, I’m interested in how many bike racks that I should put outside buildings, it’s nice for me to ask you, Pete, because I feel that I should be an inclusive person but, for you, that’s taking your time.

So, I think the battle for leaders and for companies now is to, firstly, figure out, “What are the things that are low stakes and what’s high stakes?” and put transparency around the low-stake stuff for the one person or the two people who might really want to see how that decision is made. They should be able to go online and look that up.

But I think for the rest of the people who are actually happy to trust and give autonomy to their teammates, then they should get on with it. And I think part of it is that leaders themselves shouldn’t be involved in the low-stakes decision-making. So, for example, if I’m in your team, Pete, and you’re the leader, you, like everyone else in the team, should accept me making decisions without you being there, and the mode of transparency that’s open to the team.

And I think I see in teams now, particularly in finance and tech where I do a lot of work, where people are moving towards that mode, and they’re getting just a lot of time back. And people are ending up being happier, safe in the knowledge that when the big decisions are being made, they’ll be called into the room.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I like the bike rack example a lot because you can very politely say, “You know, I trust you and whatever you decide with regard to how many bike racks is fine.” And then that might be a good little test for yourself internally, like, “Do you have any input here?” It’s like, “Actually, I guess I wouldn’t want you to add hundreds of bike racks, such that the closets are…or the hallways are really crowded, but other than that, I mean, really, you could have five, you could have 50, and it’s just fine with me.”

Grace Lordan
And most people will make a really sensible decision in that domain. And there are these experiments that are fantastic in behavioral science, where they give people things to deliberate in meetings, and they look to see how much time they spend on items, like the bike rack, as composed to items like project choice, capital structure decisions, pensions, and people tend to spend more time talking about the bike racks because, fundamentally, in meetings, most people can give an opinion on a bike rack because it’s a very easy thing for us to conceptualize.

When the material gets hard, you get much fewer questions. And, actually, for the meetings to work, we need it to be the other way around. We need it to be people like me who don’t necessarily and fully understand the question on pensions, for example, to be asking the questions so that everyone in the room gets to understand that really big decision, and we should leave the bike racks to somebody else to decide.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really good perspective, and I’m amused by podcasters. I’ve been in some podcast forums where folks have a question about, I don’t know, cover art, which kind of matters. It’s not the number one thing but it sort of matters. But that’s very easy for anyone to opine on, like, “I like the yellow one. I like the one with the bigger face,” a piece of art or design anyone can comment upon but, really, what’s most critical is, “Okay, do I have a show that serves a real audience and a real need that’s somewhat distinctive and/or superior from the alternatives available?”

But that’s a lot harder to…like, you’d actually have to do some research to be able to tell you, to opine on that as opposed to, “I like the yellow one.” And yet, yeah, that’s great. So, in a way, the primary driver of deliberation time is not so much importance or value but just, I guess, ease of folks having opinions on, opine-ability. I don’t know what we’d call that.

Grace Lordan
So, in behavioral science, there’s a whole area of research that talks about shared information versus hidden information. So, the shared information are the things that we have in common this evening when we’re talking. And for a podcast, it probably makes sense for us to focus on things that are shared, otherwise it would sound really weird for the audience.

But if we’re working together, the value of us as colleagues is actually in our hidden information, so you’ll have insights that I don’t have, and we should take time to learn those for the big stuff. But we should hire somebody who we can delegate the small stuff to so we actually have that time. So, some of the kind of work that I do is really getting people to, firstly, understand what we’re talking about to be true, but, secondly, to get comfortable talking about that hidden information.

Because one of the first things we do when we have new colleagues in companies is that we kind of condition them, if they’re going to stay with us, to conform to the type of information that we like sharing in meetings, which really gets rid of the comparative advantage we get when that person comes through the door. And it all comes down to our ego.

As humans, we just like to be comfortable in conversations where we fully understand what’s going on. But, obviously, to learn something new, there has to be lots of moments in our life where we’re sitting in rooms where we fundamentally don’t understand something. We grapple with that so we get on the same page as somebody who has a different perspective or unique information compared to us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, so we had some thoughts on time. How about self-narratives?

Grace Lordan
Yeah. So, one of the interesting things for me, because my background is in computer science, so one of the biggest learning curves for me has been that people prefer storytelling over data. One of the most interesting things to me in the psychology literature is that the biggest storytellers we are, are the stories that we essentially tell ourselves.

So, if I’m ever going to do something new, what actually goes on in my mind just before I do that particular thing is going to govern how well I actually do it in the moment, how I feel coming out of it, and whether or not I’ll engage in it again. And in Think Big, I kind of explore the idea of self-narratives that might be holding people back, like, “I’m not good enough,” “This doesn’t necessarily suit me,” “I don’t have time for this,” and really getting people to challenge those narratives so that they get to move forward in a way that feels much freer.

And I think, again, kind of in writing this and in talking to different people on their perspectives, what are the things that really stood out for me is, fundamentally, people often don’t see that. It’s themselves that are the majority of what’s holding them back as compared to other people. We usually see it really clearly if somebody else puts an obstacle in our way, but those obstacles that we have through the image we have of ourselves, which is probably not true, by the way, is something fundamentally that, I think, people need to address in order to achieve and, given the topic of this podcast, be awesome at their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so, if we’re exploring the stories that we’re telling to ourselves or about ourselves, do you have any pro tips on identifying what stories may not be serving us so well, and how to reframe them?

Grace Lordan
Absolutely. So, I think that there’s kind of two different ways in which you can go about this. So, the first is that you can start listening to yourself, essentially. So, when you have these big moments, recognizing whether or not you’re going into imposter syndrome; recognizing whether or not your self-chatter is saying that you don’t necessarily have enough time, which is my one, by the way; recognizing what that actual narrative is; and challenging that narrative in the moment by giving disconfirming evidence.

And I think that there’s some good evidence in psychology that this can work for people, I’m quite skeptical because I can’t imagine myself being in a situation where I’m about to do an action that’s making me nervous, and I find myself having the strength to have that argument with myself internally. So, I prefer the other approach, which is really to, once you’ve identified that narrative, to think about actions that disconfirm that particular narrative and engage in those regularly.

So, really, for example, if you think about somebody whose self-narrative says that they’re a smoker, so they now start saying, “Actually, I’m not a smoker. I’m somebody who does something different.” So, every time that they might think of a cigarette, instead of going and smoking, they bring that narrative to the fore so that they’re swapping out one behavior for another behavior in themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And then when it comes to resilience, how do we get a boost there?

Grace Lordan
So, the chapter on resilience, I actually wrote before COVID, and I think it’s been the most popular chapter in the book because, during the COVID pandemic, a lot of people really wanted to figure out how they could become more resilient when they’re at home. Again, in the same flavor as the book, I really lean on what are small things that you can do on a day-to-day basis that will preserve your resilience reserves or also enhance them.

So, I’ll give you two, which are two of my favorites. So, the first is to really reflect what you do when something negative happens to you. So, whether or not it’s a colleague insulting you, not getting a promotion, to something even bigger than that. What are the typical types of reactions that you have? So, really kind of engage in that self-awareness.

And for behavioral scientists, we call that period affect. So, basically, you’re reacting with emotion and you’re in this hot stage which probably isn’t the best for you to make decisions about your way forward, figuring out what you’re actually going to do in that period. So, for me, in the book, I give the readers a list of things that I do that range from a walk around the block when it’s something small, to taking bigger timeouts to have to spend some time with friends and get the healthy jolts of confirmation bias when things are a bit worse.

And then the second stage is dealing with the problem. And I ask people to do this ahead of time, so really think about, “When negative things happen, what are you actually going to reach with?” so that they’re not reacting with their emotions. And this is particularly useful, I think, for people who do become very emotional when things don’t actually go their way.

Within companies, you can also do this within teams so if you’re trying to build psychological safety, you could think about saying to your team, “Look, there’s going to be moments where things don’t go our way. And when things don’t go our way, we’re going to take a timeout, and this is what the timeouts can actually look like.” And that does something for the team in giving them certainty about what would happen in an uncertain situation. And with respect to the individual, you’re essentially giving yourself certainty about what you’re going to do when things don’t necessarily go wrong. So, it seems to be very effective.

The second then is to really go into a battle with loss aversion. So, if you can imagine yourself, Pete, and you’re walking down the street today, this won’t happen in London, by the way, because the weather is extraordinarily hot today, but if you’re walking down the street and it’s a rainy day, and somebody splashes you with a puddle, so they go through, you’re soak from head to toe, and you’re meant to go somewhere important. How would you react in that situation?

Pete Mockaitis
I would probably say, “Aargh!”

Grace Lordan
Would you shake a fist? Would you be annoyed at the driver?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I’d be annoyed, angry, confused, startled, yeah.

Grace Lordan
Would you tell the story later to other people?

Pete Mockaitis
It really could go either way. I suppose if I was entering a room and everyone says, “Whoa, why are you covered in mud?” I would absolutely tell them.

Grace Lordan
You might do it.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d probably tell my wife but, yeah, I’d probably lead with that.

Grace Lordan
But it would stick with you even for that moment where you have that angry burst, you have a negative reaction. That seems to be what most people would have, then some people would carry it with them for their day, and then some people would just find it really hard to get over. So, you have these kinds of three types of people, if you like.

You get the same when you have somebody who insults you. So, if you can imagine yourself being in the workplace and somebody says, “Pete, you’ve done an extraordinarily bad job today. I don’t know why you came to work,” usually people inside will feel quite negatively towards that person. They might tell their spouse or they might tell a friend, but it really weighs on their mind.

Or, if a colleague ignores them, the same thing. So, if a colleague ignores them, they do feel negatively towards the person, “What’s going on? Why is Jim ignoring me today? I don’t necessarily know what’s going on.” And on the other side, we don’t celebrate when we don’t get splashed by a puddle. We don’t celebrate when people are incredibly kind to us and give us compliments in work. We’re very unlikely to celebrate when somebody kind of gives us that greeting in the hall with a big smile on their face.

And it’s actually been shown kind of time and time again that people who focus on those moments, the driver who slowed down without actually splashing them and ruining their day, the person who is incredibly kind to them, the person who gives the good greeting, if you concentrate on those at a certain point in the day, which is known as gratitude in the literature, or celebrating small wins, if you’re a behavioral scientist, it really allows you to not just kind of preserve your resilience stores because it moves the focus away from bad things that have happened to positive, but also allows you to become more resilient because you recognize that you have these good things going on in your life.

And that is something that I really kind of encourage people to try and see if it works for them. For me, I’m not a great journaler so I usually do this at the end of my day, like 7:00, it would be later tonight, and I write down that I’m really grateful for a good conversation with Pete. And having those moments where I actually kind of look at my day, and say, “Yes, everything didn’t go my way but there were these things that actually stand out that life is going in the right direction,” is extraordinarily resilience-preserving and incredibly easy to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Grace, you’re also an authority on issues associated with bias. Can you speak to some of the takeaways there that can help us be more awesome at our jobs?

Grace Lordan
Yes. So, I wrote a whole chapter on bias in the book and one of the things that I ask people to recognize in the beginning is to think about what is the proportion of their journey that belongs to them, and what is the proportion of the journey where they rely on other people.

And then we go deep-diving into the biases that traditionally hold people back. And one of my favorites is confirmation bias. So, it’s my favorite because confirmation bias is both a good thing and a bad thing. So, when you’re having a really crummy day and things haven’t gone your way, you absolutely want somebody who’s going to take your side, who’s going to tell you that you’re right, and who isn’t going to put up a fight against you when you say to them it was all somebody else’s fault. You absolutely want that.

However, if we bring confirmation bias into the workplace on our regular days when we’re trying to do our job, when we’re trying to get critical feedback, it really, really will hold us back. And confirmation bias is a tendency for me to hold a belief and then go looking for evidence that actually confirms that belief.

So, for example, if I’m somebody who believes that we should go with a particular project at work, or, to use our example, that there should be ten bike racks outside the building, I will look for evidence that confirms that particular belief. But, of course, there’s lots of other perspectives that I should be taking into account when I’m making big decisions, like, the project to actually take on, a colleague to hire, or who to actually promote.

And, fundamentally, I think some of the battles that we have at the moment is getting within teams and individuals to really look outside themselves, for perspectives that aren’t their own, and to battle their own self-beliefs. And if you think about whether or not you’re growing as a person, it can be really helpful to ask yourself when was the last time that you changed your mind on something that was a fundamental belief to you.

So, you come into this world, we were brought up in a certain way, we go about our journey, and we kind of create particular beliefs. When did you actually change your mind? And in the absence of being able to identify when you changed your mind, being honest with yourself, and saying, “When did I sit down with somebody who held a different belief to me and had a conversation with them?”

And, for me, most of my work is in companies when it comes to investment choices, colleagues to hire, colleagues to promote, but you can also link this to what’s kind of going on in society and different perspectives with respect to governments and ideologies, and people just aren’t talking to each other. And what it really comes down to is, as human beings, again, our ego lends us to hanging around with people who have the same viewpoints of us and always wanting to be right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Grace, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Grace Lordan
No, I’m good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Grace Lordan
I think I’m going to go with Madeleine Albright, who has passed away very recently, who said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Grace Lordan
So, I have a number of them, but one that I refer to a lot is one that was done in the ‘60s on the Pygmalion Effect that really demonstrated that when researchers went into schools and they picked out the kids that had the highest ability, and then when they went away, and they came back and they looked at the kids’ test scores, well, they actually were kids who had done incredibly well.

But what was really unique about this study was that the kids had been randomly selected on the first day. So, they weren’t the highest ability at all, and it really demonstrated two things. So, firstly, self-belief of the kids mattered because they have been given the label that they were high ability but also the belief in the teachers towards these students.

So, if you are somebody who is struggling or who isn’t doing incredibly well at work, it might just be that you don’t have a manager who’s giving you opportunities to thrive. And why I picked that one this evening is it has been replicated many times in companies to demonstrate that somebody who isn’t doing particularly well in one team under a particular manager, when they move and the manager actually believes in them and inputs into them and gives them opportunities, they do tend to grow.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And now could you share a favorite book?

Grace Lordan
I love a lot by Ryan Holiday. So, at the moment I’m reading Courage is Calling, which is an absolutely amazing book, and I’m really looking forward to the second part, which is coming out in September on discipline. I think the work he does that really links to stoicism and some other concepts that have been long forgotten, and bringing them into the modern day is just so unique. I would really recommend people reading him.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Grace Lordan
iPad. So, my iPad is used to check my emails. So, on every other device, I don’t have my emails come in and ping and distract me. I use my iPad as the accessory where I check my emails, and it’s been the one thing that has really allowed me to increase my productivity in the last decade.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you don’t view or reply to any emails on your computer?

Grace Lordan
No, or phone. And, at the moment, it’s in a different room, so the cost of me checking it is actually really high. So, if you said, “I want to go and just make a coffee, I’ll be back in two minutes,” previously I would be checking on my phone, answering some emails, getting distracted, and not being in the moment. Now, I have to physically walk out, get it. Sometimes I do do it on autopilot, I won’t lie, but the majority of time, it has become conscious. So, it’s not the tool itself, but it’s what it enables me to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Grace Lordan
Favorite habit is I was going to say the email checker, but I’m going to pick something different. It’s walking my dog. So, I walk her morning, afternoon, and evening, very short in the afternoon, and it’s really just a chance to get mindful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Grace Lordan
So, I say a lot that time is your most precious resource, and people do, on Instagram, let me know what they’re using their precious resource for. And so, we can’t get it back. So, really bringing people’s focus to time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Grace Lordan
www.GraceLordan.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Grace Lordan
Yes, I’d like people to make a pledge to have one small change in their life that will make them be awesome at their jobs. If they’re not sure what to do, it can be doing a time audit. So, figuring out what they did in the last week, breaking that time into 15-minute chunks, and dividing it into things that are time sinkers, things that give you happiness in the moment, and things that are going to make you move more towards your future self.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Grace, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck as you think big.

Grace Lordan
Thank you, Pete. You’re absolutely awesome.

793: The Six Mind Shifts for Thriving at Work with Aliza Knox

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Aliza Knox breaks down the six critical shifts that help turn around an unpleasant work situation.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to stay enthusiastic in the face of work hardships 
  2. What to do when you feel stagnant
  3. How to engineer serendipity for your career 

About Aliza

Aliza built and led APAC businesses for Google, Twitter and Cloudflare. She is a BCG advisor, Forbes columnist, and board director. Called a “Kick Ass Woman Slaying the World of Tech”, Aliza wrote Don’t Quit Your Day Job, outlining 6 mindshifts you need to rise & thrive at work as part of  her commitment to empowering the next generation of leaders. She’s in the Top 100 Women in Tech, Singapore and was named IT Woman of the Year Asia, 2020. 

Resources Mentioned

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Aliza Knox Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Aliza, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Aliza Knox
Pete, thanks for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate you’re waking up extra early for us in Singapore, and I understand that you celebrated becoming an Australian citizen in an interesting way. What’s the story here?

Aliza Knox
So, I moved to Australia in the late 1980s, loved it, and decided I wanted to become a citizen, I was eligible after a few years, and wanted to celebrate in a big way. As you probably know, converts are always more zealous than people born into things. And so, I went out with three friends to an indigenous Australian restaurant and did what I have called eating the coat of arms.

So, if you don’t know, the coat of arms in Australia has a kangaroo and an emu, so I thought that if I ingested them, I would become even more Australian. So, I started with a salad that had smoked emu on it and followed with a kangaroo steak.

Pete Mockaitis
And are these tasty items?

Aliza Knox
Not bad. Not bad. Not something I eat frequently but kangaroo steaks are generally marinated for a while because it could be a bit tough, but not anything vile to eat.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I’m intrigued. I liked just about every meat I’ve ever had, and I’ve never had those, so I’m intrigued.

Aliza Knox
Well, next time you come down under, you can probably get them.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, I’m excited to chat about some wisdom in your book Don’t Quit Your Day Job: The Six Mind Shifts You Need to Rise and Thrive at Work. Tell me, as you did your research, did you discover anything particularly surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating about people and quitting and their thought processes?

Aliza Knox
The book is written from the viewpoint of somebody who’s worked in corporate for over 40 years and does huge amounts of mentoring, counselling, talking to people who want help, so it’s really anecdotal.

So, there aren’t a lot of statistics but the one thing that I did find in doing a lot of reading is that even during the pandemic and all of this talk of The Great Reset, The Great Resignation, much of the reason for quitting is the same. So, certainly, there have been resignations now because of burnout, or because people have not been allowed to work from home, or it’s become more of a norm, or because, as inflation has come in, people are looking for higher salaries.

But, still, among the top two or three reasons for people leaving their jobs are “My manager isn’t invested in me,” or, “My company doesn’t value me.” And so, those have remained steadfast based on all the research I’d read from a variety of firms, including McKinsey and BCG.

Pete Mockaitis
And your own experience.

Aliza Knox
And my own experience, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds right to me. And so, I’m curious then, if one finds themselves in such a position where one or both of those are true, you’ve got some mind shifts you recommend. How do they go?

Aliza Knox
Okay, let me just back up and tell you the mind shifts are about having a long, healthy, thriving career and not necessarily, despite the title, never quitting a job. It’s some shifts on how to think about your career. I definitely think      that there are times you will want to leave. The title is a bit provocative in a time of   The Great Resignation but, to be clear, it doesn’t mean you should never quit, and I’m sure there are instances when you should.

But what I do think is that sometimes there is a lens through which people can see their career, which they don’t use, and those make up the mind shifts, or that lens is the combination of these mind shifts, and that’s why this book is for everybody, whether they’re in a job now or thinking about getting a job. And Kim Scott, who wrote Radical Candor, actually said on the back of the book, that it proves that mindset, not just passion, drives career success. And so, that’s why I think these mindsets are really important.

So, if you will, what I can do is go through each mindset briefly and give you an example. Will that be helpful?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, please.

Aliza Knox
Okay. It’ll take a little while but we can talk in between. So, the first mind shift is, “Go for both. Your work and your life are on the same team.” And what this means is move past the kind of traditional thinking of, “Oh, it’s my work or my life. I have to make a decision, and if one goes up, the other goes down.” That’s why, in particular, I really hate the term work-life balance because it sounds like a see-saw, like if one’s up, the other has got to be down. And I don’t think that’s the case at all.

I wrote an article in Forbes a couple months ago about a young journalist who graduated from Columbia, in one of the preeminent journalism schools in the US, and did what many people do, went to a small town where she could really cover meaty issues. She went to the South and she was covering things like chemicals in the water, very big deal issues, the kinds of things that get you promoted to larger and larger newspapers, maybe get you a Pulitzer, but that approach takes years of working your way up through smaller-town newspapers.

And she had grown up in New York, was raised by grandparents, and really felt the pull to be back near them, and couldn’t see how that was going to fit with this issue of needing to be in smaller areas and her long-term dream of working for The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times or WaPo. And so, she eventually said, “I can’t make this decision, my career or my life, because my life needs to be in New York.

So, she did what she thought she had to do, gave up on the career part, and said, “Okay, I’m going for my life. I’m moving to New York.” And guess what, after not that long, even though she had taken a job that she thought was really fluffy, writing about the real estate industry, not serious journalism, not award-winning, she actually was able to work her way into a position where she’s now an editor at The Wall Street Journal.

She didn’t have to trade off my life or my work. She actually got both. And by focusing on what was really important to her, she was able to have both things, if you will. So, I think this “Your life and your work are on the same team,” you can do it, you can have it both is really an important lesson.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious, in that example, did the being in New York…? I mean, that was good for her life and it ended up being good for her work. I’m curious, is there a connection there in terms of, because of feeling connected and energized or inspired or rejuvenated with her family, that was a career-enabler or did she just kind of get lucky?

Aliza Knox
I don’t think it was either. I think she was observant. We could talk about serendipity later but I think she kept her eyes open for opportunities to move around. I’m sure it helped. I’m sure it helped energize her, that she was with her family, that she was doing something that was very important to her.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, what’s the next mind shift?

Aliza Knox
So, just before we move on, I do think it’s important to say in each mind shift in the book, I got four, five power perspectives and then action steps to take from each one. And in this particular one, there is another interesting point, which is that often people obsess about these choices. They ruminate and ruminate and kind of can’t move on, paralysis by analysis, “Which one should I do? How do I do it? What happens if I do each one?”

And I found that, generally, if you take a plunge and move on, that’s helpful, and you are usually not derailed by a single career choice. Whatever she would’ve done, she probably could’ve made it into a good long-term plan. And I have another story about a young woman named Emily Rubin, who, after college, took a job in San Francisco that she wasn’t sure about but it was kind of her only option.

She liked it in the beginning, then was really miserable. I thought she should probably stay a year just because that’s kind of the minimum time to really get to know a company and be able to tell people, “Hey, I did something.” But she was too unhappy, so here’s one where she quit her job. But, in doing so, she found a job she really likes at a mid-size consulting company called Huron, and she would not have been able to get that job without, even though it was limited, the prior experience at the startup.

So, it’s important, she made a decision, she just got on with it. And, while that decision didn’t seem wise in retrospect because you could look at it, and say, “Well, she made a mistake. She didn’t like that job.” But she did need a job, and that job propelled her to Huron. So, I think an action step for this section in this mind shift is if you’re thinking about a choice like this now, think about it as best you can, get some advice – we can talk about personal boards of directors later – get some perspective, and then take a plunge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool.

Aliza Knox
All right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, tell us about the next mind shift, “Stamina is a muscle. Build yours.”

Aliza Knox
Right. Well, I’m thinking about muscles, in particular. I went away for a few weeks, and, over the last couple of years, I’ve tried to go to a personal trainer in hopes of developing some muscles. And I’m telling you, I’m feeling my muscles right now. So, I think my other muscles, many of them are weaker than my stamina one.

But one of my favorite formulas that I came up with for the book, because I really believe it, is that stamina equals perseverance plus enthusiasm. I think it’s not just gritting it out, it’s not just grinding it out, and it is a superpower because, no matter how much you love your job, how much you love your career, how upbeat you are, how well you perform, I think you’re going to have bad days, tough times, obstacles, and stamina is what gets you through them.

So, an example that I go through, this one, not her real name, is a woman named Barbara who was at a startup, and I met her and she was really disconsolate, she said, “I’ve been head of sales here, and I’m being layered over. They’re bringing somebody in over me, and I’m in my mid-to-late 20s, I’ve done this, I’m going to move on. I have to leave because this is just too demeaning and too demoralizing.”

And I had met her partly because I know the person who was going to be brought in over her. And so, I said to her, “You know, I wonder if you should hang in there. This person who’s coming in is actually a really good guy. He’s well-known for leadership, he’s well-known for investing in people, you might want to give it a shot before you leave because, even though you’ll have a slightly lower title, and you feel like it’s a step down, I think he might actually really help you grow your career faster than you will if you keep jumping to places where you don’t have someone above you to guide you.”

And so, I’m sure not completely due to me, but she must’ve talked to a few people, and she decided to stick it out, she decided to exercise some stamina, hang in there. And, indeed, she was promoted two times working for this gentleman. The second time while on maternity leave, which shouldn’t be something I have to call out but I still think it’s important in this day and age because it doesn’t happen that often.

And, eventually, she left that company and she’s gone on after two jumps to be the CRO at another quite well-known startup, so she’s done really well. And I think by exerting that stamina and getting herself to think about staying, she really had a better outcome than she would’ve if she had quit her job at that time. So, I think this is a great example about using stamina, using patience, and using optimism to hang in there and test out things that you think might have made you want to quit.

Pete Mockaitis
And if we find that our perseverance and enthusiasm muscles are weak, how do we get them stronger?

Aliza Knox
Well, I think one very common step that is talked about a lot, especially if you ever read anything by Arianna Huffington, is to make some time for yourself that includes sleep. Sleep is really important to keeping up your energy and enthusiasm. And, indeed, for those of us who are aging, I keep reading that lack of sleep is one cause, long-term lack of sleep seems to be one cause of dementia. So, I’m sure most of the people listening to your podcast are not worrying about that yet, but it’s starting to be on my list of things to be concerned about. So, I definitely say sleep.

And, for me, personally, I go to the gym or exercise every day. And if you’re a high-energy person but you also need to vege, or remove some of the excess energy, or build up some if you’re a low-energy person, I really do find having one hour for myself every day to workout is important. And I think for people who get energy in other ways, by actually, if you’re more of an introvert, having time for yourself, having an hour every day that you protect and that is something you want to do is really critical to that. And that’s a better tradeoff than doing another hour of work, even in a really driven high-performance culture.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about the third mind shift, “Connection trumps tech savvy even in tech”?

Aliza Knox
Yes, this is really important because I think, again, during the pandemic and working for Silicon Valley firms, we tend to think that tech can solve everything, and I think it solves a lot. I think we have a lot of collaboration tools, we have a lot of devices, things that really help us. I listened to one of your podcasts where there was discussion about equipment to help you even meditate better. And I think there is a lot of technology out there that’s fantastic.

But human relationships are still really critical. And we see this over and over again back to, “How does my manager invest in me thinking about how I relate to people at work?” So, one anecdote about why they’re still important, I tell a story about Suzy Nicoletti, a real person who worked for me at Google and then Twitter, and is now the head of Asia for a startup called Yotpo.

She didn’t get promoted at Google at one stage when she really expected to. She was performing well, she was selling well, her clients liked her, and she sought some advice from a gentleman who she knew from the outside who’s quite a bit more senior, and she said, “I don’t understand this. Here’s all these things about what I’ve been doing. Why would I not get promoted?”

And he said, “Well, you know, I listened to you talk about your job a lot, and I can tell that you’re great about it, and that you really like it, and that your clients like you and you’re enthusiastic but one of the things is you talk about yourself and your clients. You don’t talk about the team. You don’t talk about the support you’re getting.”

“If I were your boss, I might worry even though I know you personally and you’re not like this. I might worry that you’re not really a team player. I might worry about putting you in charge of a bunch of people because you’re not narcissistic but you’re coming across almost as if that might be the case. Why don’t you think a little bit more about in your discussions and in your actions working with a team, like, I know that you’re doing it, but I think that you could emphasize it some more.”

And she went ahead and did that, and she got promoted the next time. And I, actually, since had a chance to talk to her boss at the time, and that was precisely the issue. And so, Suzy was able to get some outside perspective on what was going on. And I think that it’s really important – and we can talk about it later if you like – that you create a personal board of directors, that you have some outside perspective on your career so people can maybe give you insights that you might not be getting directly at work on what’s going on and what you might need to do.

And in that case, what was really important to her, in terms of human relationships, is having a sounding board, an effective sounding board, with people who know you outside of your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And what’s powerful about that story is that that person actually provided some useful actionable wisdom as opposed to, “Oh, that’s bull. I can’t believe they did that to you. You’re so amazing.” That was really cool of him.

Aliza Knox
That’s why, like I think friends are great sounding boards and probably part of your moral support group. And sometimes if your friends are people with lots more experience or really different experience and have great perspective, then they might be on your board of directors. But, you’re absolutely right, I think that, “Yeah, that’s bull,” and “You’re fantastic,” we all need that for moral support, and especially if we’re beginning to get things like impostor syndrome, but they’re not necessarily all that effective in the “Don’t quit your day job,” really understanding how to build your career aspect of life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And can we hear about the next mind shifts?

Aliza Knox
Sure, “You’re in a relationship with your career. Nurture it.” So, what’s interesting to me, most of us probably have been in a relationship with somebody, or want to be in a relationship with somebody, or are thinking about being in a relationship with somebody, and all the reading I’ve ever done about that, I’m certainly no expert, and, again, not a psychologist, but it says, “Don’t put all your expectations on your partner. Don’t expect your spouse, husband, wife, partner, companion, to fulfill all your needs. You’ve got to have outside stuff.”

And I, personally, have been married for almost 30 years, and I have a great husband, but I don’t do everything with him, and I have lots of outside sources of things that keep me interested, and the same for him. But somehow, at least in the time I’ve been working, we’ve come to this point where there’s a lot of expectations that our career will fulfill all our passions. It kind of started out with, “Hey, I’ve got to work to pay the mortgage, or pay the rent, and feed my kids, get some clothes.” Then, careers were supposed to become rewarding and fulfilling, and I think that’s entirely possible.

But then we got to a stage where it’s like career should fulfill all your passions, and I think that’s a really high bar and maybe not possible for everybody. I went out to lunch recently with a professor who’s an avid equestrian, and I guess it’s possible to have a career in horseback riding. I don’t really know. I’ve never investigated it. I think you can be a jockey. I know that there’s a lot of great nonprofits on like riding with the disabled, so maybe there’s a career there, but maybe there aren’t a lot.

And so, what this guy does, he also really likes teaching. He’s got a great career as a professor, he’s picked a career where he has summers off and long winter breaks, and he manages his finances so that he can have a couple horses, and during these long breaks, be places where he’s in a rural area and ride all the time. And then he’s also living somewhere where, early in the morning or late at night, because he’s not required to teach at those hours, he can ride, and he doesn’t have a commute.

So, he’s managed to say, “Okay, there are things I care about,” and, again, back to what you said earlier, Pete, “that give me energy, that also help in the other part of my life,” and so he’s managed his career to do both.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And it is a nice paradigm shift to go away from, “My career needs to be my passion and fill, and tick every one of those boxes to my choice of career can support my passions.” And I think that that’s an important consideration as you’re looking at opportunities, in terms of, “I don’t care to be in the midst of hustle-bustle urgency, and I really don’t think I would flourish in, like, deal environments, either like real estate deals or Wall Street IPO deals.”

Because it seems like whenever you’re connected there, whether you’re doing strategy consulting for the private equity firm who’s doing the deal, or you’re a lawyer who’s supporting it, or you’re the banker who’s got some funds, it’s like nutty. It just seems like there’s no way around it. It’s nutty, late nights, and, “Answer your phone and…” my phone defaults to do not disturb, like always. So, I know I would not flourish in such an environment and so I’ve chosen kind of the opposite of that with regard to we’ve got a media schedule that goes sometime in the distance.

And then the horseback riding is a nice specific example of that, in terms of, “What’s important to you?” “Horseback riding.” “What’s necessary for that?” “We got some money, some time off, some home in a rural area.” And so, I like how that’s nice and concrete. And though if we think about our own emotional, relational needs with friends, hobbies, family, then that can also spark a nice little list of extra considerations that might’ve been totally outside your awareness before having considered this.

Aliza Knox
I think that’s right. There’s another story in the book about a professor named Marla Stone, who didn’t get a job she really wanted. So, she wasn’t doing things around her job, like the equestrian. She had a professorship in Rome, there was a more senior role in that same foundation and she applied for it, didn’t get it, came back to Los Angeles, and thought, “Well, I want to throw myself into something that I care about. I didn’t get that and I’m back to my old job.”

And she started working with the ACLU on the side, and went on their board, eventually became chairman of the Southern California Board of ACLU. The job in Rome came up again, she thought, “Oh, listen, it’s kind of my dream job. I’m going to apply one more time. I really want to do it.” And it turned out that by being on the board of the ACLU, she had more of the skills that they wanted. Originally, she was just a great academic, but they also wanted somebody who understood some aspects of running a business. And because she’d been a Chair, even though it was a nonprofit, she picked up some of the skills along the way.

She didn’t go to the ACLU in order to get this job in Rome. It had nothing to do with it. She did it to just say, “Hey, I want some other stuff out of my career. I didn’t get this one thing I wanted so I’m going to shift gears a little bit and make sure I have something else that’s really interesting to me that fulfills a passion.” And guess what, it came back and actually boosted her into a dream job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Aliza Knox
Very cool.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s hear about the fifth mind shift.

Aliza Knox
So, back to a word you’ve been using a lot, and one that I like. This one is “Get a move on. Use movement to stay energized and thrive.” And this is about movement keeping you energized, maximizing your value. Movement can be a promotion. It can be moving geographically. It can be moving laterally, which means moving from one role in a company to another to learn something else, like from sales to marketing, or from engineering to sales. It could be job crafting.

And it could, ultimately, be leaving your job, quitting and going to another job. So, I don’t think I’ve used any examples of men so far, so I’ll talk a little bit about a guy who I call Tim Liu in the book. It’s not his real name, but he was working for a company here in Singapore. He really liked the company and he liked his job, and he was doing well at it, but he felt stuck. There were no promotions available. There were no other jobs available. He didn’t want to move, he really wants to be in Singapore, and he really felt stagnated. He felt like he wasn’t learning.

So, he went and talked to other companies, I would call it job dating. He was just trying to see what else is out there, “Is there something else that really gets me going, that I’ll be excited about at another company?” and he didn’t find it. So, he went to his manager, and said, “Listen, I really like my job, I really like the company, but I’m stagnating here. I need to learn more. I need something.”

And, of course, that’s pretty good for a manager to hear, which is, “I can’t find something I prefer. I really want to stay here, but can you help me?” That is a lot better for a manager than to hear a good employee saying, “I feel stuck and I’m going to go,” and trying to save them. So, the manager said, “Yeah, what is it? What do you want to learn?” and they worked together. Tim really wanted to know more about, in his case, government relations and business development.

So, the manager helped him craft, add on some extra tasks, mixed with some different kinds of people in the firm to learn, and it re-energized Tim to hang out for longer. Eventually, there was room for him to get a promotion at that firm, and so he stayed. So, in this case, because he couldn’t get the movement that he wanted, he was able to ask for it, create it himself with the help of his team, and he’s saved, which was great for the firm.

There are lots of other ways to do it. I’ve got a good friend, who also felt like she was stagnating, and she’s moved from one country to another. Another young woman, Ling-Ling, who was in sales but loves social media, and so, even though she was in sales and mostly needed to be on the phone with clients, she spent a lot of time on LinkedIn building her profile, putting up lots of really insightful pithy comments, stories, small videos about what her firm was doing, and, eventually, she was so good at it that she was able to switch into a marketing job at her firm.

So, all those things were creating movement, and all these people are energized and thriving in their new roles. So, some have left, some have not, but, really, interesting ways as they sort of left their roles but none of those have left their firms.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s handy. And the sixth mind shift?

Aliza Knox
Okay, the sixth one, “Distant is the new diverse. Include the international working from home team.” So, this is one of my favorites because when the pandemic started, I bristled a little at the idea that, “Gosh, no one’s ever done this. Nobody’s ever worked from home. Nobody has ever run teams that are dispersed all over the world.” That’s kind of not true.

If you look at people who’ve been building Asia, or Latin America, or Europe, or the US for a headquarters in Korea, France, Brazil, they’ve often been in the situation where they’re trying to deal with a lot of people whom they never get to see in person, except for maybe a couple times a year. So, I call this removing the R from remote to try and make it emote.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Aliza Knox
And one of my favorite statistics from Gallup is that companies with engaged employees are 20% more profitable. If you keep employees close, if you keep them feeling good about the firm and feeling engaged, and it does also go back to having a manager who cares about you but not only, you really have a firm that does better, not just employees who are happy.

So, one of the things I’ve seen over time is that many companies, tech companies, I think, do this a lot, other companies, banks, pharmaceuticals, try to engage their employees by having global townhalls, or monthly or weekly video meetings where everybody can get on, and maybe leadership will talk about examples of great client wins in the firm, or do shoutouts to employees who’ve done great things or gone the extra mile.

And you’ll notice that companies tend to focus on things that happen in headquarters because that’s what the leaders hear first. But if you make the extra effort, as a leader, or even as somebody on the team to make sure this doesn’t happen, if it’s an American company, they might talk about GAP or MasterCard.

But what about if they think about Uniqlo in Japan, or China UnionPay in China where employees are doing something? Or, what about if they don’t just call out that Joe is doing a good job but remember to shout out that Mariabrisa, at Latin America, is doing a great job. So, that really helps bringing in the international or the work-from-home team.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And then, as we think about navigating our own jobs, how do you consider the working remotely versus in the headquarters or at the office in terms of career impact?

Aliza Knox
Yeah, I think that’s really good question. I think there’s a lot of literature that, “Hey, we’ve been really more efficient and effective during the pandemic, and it’s because we don’t have commutes, and we can just keep up all the personal relationships.” So, I’m a little bit skeptical on that. I think we have been efficient, and there probably are better work models. I’m not sure it means we should never meet in person.

I think what happened is that everybody sort of drew down on their social capital during the pandemic, and that the lack of face-to-face time hindered new relationships and, in some cases, weakened existing ones. We’re using these relationships we’ve already built but building new ones remotely is harder. So, I think a really good thing to do now is to focus on building back that social capital, and that could mean a couple things.

It could mean making some effort even if your company is working from home or working remotely to get out there in person if you’re in the same city, or if you travel a little bit, to meet some of the people you work with in person. I think another case, if it’s all remote, I have a good friend, who is in comms at Google, who says, “I don’t take a meeting. I make a friend.” So, just like what you and I did right before the beginning of this podcast, just chat a little bit about things to get to know you. You could do that. One of the things about Zoom, “We all get on it at 6:30, let’s start, let’s not waste any time, business, business, business. It’s 7:00, let’s get off.” Maybe.

But in a real meeting, people come in and not everybody enters at exactly 6:00, and somebody comes in with Doritos and shares them. There’s always that few minutes of kind of idle chitchat or maybe commiserating about the weather that are silly but that kind of start to build relationships. So, maybe you build that into Zoom.

And one strategy for individuals is to maybe build a personal visibility plan that takes into account the challenges of remote or hybrid work, and includes ways to remain visible and connected, like, you might decide to try to do a little more than was asked, or you could plan for some get-togethers with colleagues out of work, even virtual cocktails to help build back up social capital that’s been depleted.

Or, I think something good managers do and can do for their teams is to make sure that they’re talking to other people in the firm about you, and you can repay that favor so that you’ve visible. People know about you even if you’re not seeing them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Okay. Well, so some nice mind shifts that can change the way we think about career decisions and perhaps illuminate optimal paths that were previously just not even in our conscious awareness, so really valuable stuff. Let’s talk about serendipity because these mind shifts feel a bit – what’s the word – not quite the word programmatic. They’re principles to be considered versus serendipity, just kind of seems to happen. So, how do we think about finding and seizing serendipity?

Aliza Knox
So, serendipity, I’ve always thought of it as something originally thought of something that just happens, right? There’s that famous story about Kate Moss, who was an amazing model, being seen in an airport in Florida, someone coming up to her and saying, “Do you want to model? You’re gorgeous,” and then going on to being rich and famous. And I’m still waiting for that, frankly. I’m traveling next week, so if anybody wants to come to Cheney Airport and give me the same opportunity, I’m happy for that.

But I think of serendipity more as opportunity plus action. So, a small personal story, I think I might’ve mentioned to you, Pete, but I am now and what I would consider phase 3.0 of my career. So, if you think of life as software releases or your career, 1.0 for me was consulting and financial services, 2.0 was tech, 3.0 now I sit on boards, I’m writing, speaking, etc. But how did I get from 1.0 to 2.0?

Well, I was working at Visa and I, at that point, was living in the Bay Area and we were working on a deal with Google, which was in some really fairly stages in the early 2000s, and I happened to meet Vint Cerf, who was one of the real founders of the internet. And in this meeting, we discussed a possible joint venture, and I was responsible for what was going on, so I wrote a thank you note and the follow-up steps, and I thought about this, and I thought about it for a couple of weeks.

And I thought, “Wow, I just met this amazing person who knows all about the internet. I’m an internet newbie.” I’m using it for email, but other than that, I don’t know much. I’ve been in financial services for a long time, certainly haven’t mastered it. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully mastered anything, and I like it. But, gosh, there’s a lot going on. We’d already had the first dotcom boom and bust. There’s a lot going on in the world of the internet, and I know nothing about it. And I am curious and I would love to learn. So, would it be appropriate for me to write to this guy I’ve only met once and I met through my job? Is it too audacious?

So, I thought about it for a couple of weeks, and I thought, “Oh, come on, be bold. Take the step.” So, for my personal email, I went back to his work email, which I had, and said, “Hey, Vint, I would love to learn more about what’s going on in the world of the internet. And I know I’m a bit older than the people you’re hiring right now, and I don’t have any particularly relevant experience. Would Google or someone else talk to me?”

And I guess the worst thing that could’ve happened is he could’ve said, “Huh, I’m going to tell Visa that you’re coming after me and it’s so inappropriate,” but I figured he wouldn’t do that. And the second worst that could’ve happened, which would’ve been very disappointing but not life-shattering, would’ve been that he just didn’t write back at all. But you know what, he wrote back, and he said, “Okay, send me your resume. Let’s talk. This might be interesting.”

And that led to my talking to a number of people at Google and eventually going to work there. And it was so serendipitous, and, in fact…so, I wrote him a thank you note at the time, and then, 10 years later when I started at Cloudflare, which is an internet security and performance company and now a number of other things, I was watching some videos to get up to speed on how Cloudflare works, and because it’s built on a back of the structure of the internet, the infrastructure, there were videos with Vint Cerf in them.

And so, I saw him and I wrote him again, and I’m like, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but here I am, 10 years later, still in tech, thanks to you,” and I got another email back. So, I would consider serendipity opportunity plus action. So, how do you seize that? And I’m sure there’s plenty of times, by the way, that I’ve missed it, but there’s been serendipity right in front of me and I haven’t gotten it, but that’s one where I did.

So, I thought, here’s the thing, you’ve got to be open. There is potential around us, make a habit for looking at unexpected opportunities. Listen to the people you meet and the conversations. What do they know that might be of interest to you? Do they know someone where you’ve been thinking about that career? Or, did you just hear that their firm is hiring? And even if it’s audacious, might you ask? Follow up.

If you hear a great talk, or you hear about a career path that you don’t know anything about, be audacious. Like, most of the time it’s not going to hurt you. Usually, the absolute worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re going not get a reply. Most people just aren’t going to go to the effort to write to your boss or tell somebody else…

Pete Mockaitis
“How dare you?”

Aliza Knox
Yeah, you know, “This person had the guts to talk to me.” Make the ask and make it specific. So, it’s not like, “Hey, Vint, do you think I could ever do something in the internet?” I just said, “Do you think I could talk to somebody at Google?” that was brazen but it was something he could do, like he works there, he knows someone there, and it wasn’t a very big deal to him when I think about it. I thought it was a big deal, like, he was working there, he can say to somebody else, “Hey, will you look at this resume and see?”

And then, I think the other really important thing to do is to pay it forward, and I tell people this over and over again. People are going to ask you for the same thing, and they’re going to ask you for inspiration and for advice, and make sure to pay it forward because you can help other people and I think it’s both fulfilling and who knows, I think there is karma in the world and it might come back to help you at some point.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, now let’s hear a bit about your favorite things. Could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Aliza Knox
So, my favorite quote is from Maya Angelou, which is, “My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Aliza Knox
Yes. So, I talked a little bit about job crafting, and there’s a really cool study by these guys Laker and Patel about how job crafting can make work more satisfying, that they wrote with MIT Sloan. I think they’re professors in England. And then there’s another one that Catalyst did, which is an organization that really promotes women in the workforce, and super relevant to the times we’re in now, and it’s called “The Power of Empathy in Times of Crisis and Beyond.” And, in fact, it was part of what I used when I wrote an article called “Is CEO now Chief Empathy Officer or should it be?”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite book?

Aliza Knox
So, I know you’re a business podcast but I read fiction all the time, so my favorite book is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, who’s a physician, who’s also an author on the side. I don’t know how you can be that talented. And it’s a book that follows twin brothers born in Addis Ababa, and it’s about the coming of age of one of them and also the coming of age of Ethiopia out of colonialism, and I highly recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Aliza Knox
Yeah, there’s a tool that’s just out in beta that I’d gotten access to called OnLoop, and it’s a mobile-first feedback tool. I’d say it is to team development what Apple Watch is to fitness, so it’s feedback minus the recency bias. It captures in-moment reflections on yourself or feedback for colleagues, and it tags it, and it actually helps you. It compounds over time to reveal people’s superpowers and blind spots. It really helps with writing evaluations, which is something most people hate in performance evaluations, going back, trying to remember what they thought about colleagues or coworkers.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit?

Aliza Knox
Going to the gym or playing badminton.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite resonant nugget, something you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Aliza Knox
Yeah, I keep getting quoted back from, “I read your book. I especially love stamina equals perseverance plus enthusiasm.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Aliza Knox
AlizaKnox.com, @AlizaKnox on Twitter, and Aliza Knox on LinkedIn. Fortunately, I have a pretty unusual name, A-L-I-Z-A K-N-O-X.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Aliza Knox
Yeah, if you don’t have one, go set up a personal board of directors. There’s a step-by-step on how to do it in my book, and I really think I regret not thinking about it and doing it earlier in my career. It would’ve helped a lot, and I see it helping people whom I mentor.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Aliza, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in this version of things.

Aliza Knox
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been fantastic to be on your show. I’ve not listened to all 700 plus podcasts, but I’m getting through them, and they’re great. I’m honored to be included.

787: How to Consistently Perform at Your Peak with Dr. Haley Perlus

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Dr. Haley Perlus shares everyday tactics to help you achieve consistent peak performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How just three words can transform your day
  2. How to increase your attention span
  3. The simple secret to feeling more energized

About Haley

Dr. Haley Perlus knows what it takes to overcome barriers and achieve peak performance. As an elite alpine ski racer, she competed and trained with the best in the world, pushing herself to the limits time and time again. Now, with a PhD in sport psychology, Haley continues to push boundaries and drive peak performance, helping athletes and Fortune 100 executives reach their goals.

Dr. Perlus is a highly sought-after keynote speaker, professor, author and consultant to Division I athletes. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado lecturing on applied sport and exercise psychology at the graduate level. She has authored several books including The Ultimate Achievement Journal and The Inside Drive and her articles have been featured in publications such as Thrive Magazine, Fitness Magazine, IDEA Fitness Journal, EpicTimes, Telluride Inside, MyVega and BeachBody®.

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Haley Perlus Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Haley, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Haley Perlus
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. And I’m intrigued, you’ve got a number of impressive credentials: Ph.D. in Sports Psychology, Elite Alpine Ski racer, and also licensed bartender. What is the story? Do these all three fit together some way? Or, where does the bartending fit in?

Haley Perlus
Well, if the first two don’t succeed, then certainly it’s a shot, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Good mental health advice right off the bat.

Haley Perlus
If we’re doomed, there’s always tequila then we’ll get back at it tomorrow. I’m just joking. I’m just joking. But people find that interesting because it’s one thing that people don’t know about me. However, my mother, my proud mother, has my bartending certificate framed above the bar in her house. It’s an interesting conversation piece.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is sweet. Well, I’m curious, do you have any quick mixological tips for non-licensed bartenders? If we would just like our cocktails to be a little bit more impressive, what should we do?

Haley Perlus
The funny thing is I don’t even really drink, so I let everybody else go ahead and loosen up and I just observe. Clean. Everything can be clean. Remove all the sugar and just go for the good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. We’ve got it. All right. Well, now let’s talk about peak performance stuff. Maybe, to kick it off, you could orient us. How do you think about peak performance, particularly in a professional context? Like, what does this phrase mean to you? Or, do you have like have a framework that you use to understand this stuff?

Haley Perlus
I do. And peak performance, sometimes, I think, actually veers us off track because when we’re looking for peak performance or peak experiences, we want to do it often. We don’t want to just peak and then come go back down. So, I really think about it as consistent, “How can I get the most consistent high performance?” which then is a peak performer. Often, we’re searching for that peak, our best performance but I want us to have our best performance as often as we possibly can, not just one time, consistent. Consistently being our best.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear because peak sort of implies it goes up and then it goes down, and then I have a little point at the top. It’s the peak. And so, consistent, I guess this chart might look like we have ever-rising peaks, if you will, and we’re getting better and better.

Haley Perlus
I love that. Let’s go with that, yes. We can’t always be perfect.  There will be ups and downs but we’re searching for more consistency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so tell us, you’ve been studying this stuff for a long time, any particularly surprising or fascinating insights that you’ve discovered along the way?

Haley Perlus
Yeah, that’s interesting, Pete, when you did talk about to my bartending, when you asked me for one recipe, and I just said keep it clean, eliminate the sugar and just go for the good stuff. That’s really what I try to do in my practice. Remove all the fluff, all the extra thinking. We want to think less but more strategically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that.

Haley Perlus
We want to really go for the meat. When we have direction, when we have focus, we are more inclined to take action and follow through.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And so then, let’s talk about getting that focus, that clarity, that strategy going. Do you have any key questions or prompts you use to really zero in on that good stuff?

Haley Perlus
I do. And just this morning, I was training about five people, all managers and leaders in their various professions, and we started with narrowing it down to three words that would best describe them as their best self, so when they’re the most energized, most focused, feeling all the good things, they know who and what matters most to them. What three words would they use to best describe them because that then becomes their daily purpose, or at least a daily representation of their purpose, but three gives them direction, gives them focus, and then they’re more inclined to take action.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, it’s three and not thirty, that’s certainly focusing. Well, can you give us some examples of three words, best self.

Haley Perlus
So, for me, I’ll tell you and then I can share with you why it’s the number three, and it’s not mine. It’s actually in The Psychology of Persuasion, where I learned it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Cialdini?

Haley Perlus
Yeah, absolutely. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had him as a guest. He’s awesome. He’s awesome.

Haley Perlus
And I love how he shares the number three. More is confusing, except with the tasting of gelato because then you want to have more experiences, the more flavors the better, and the color of our tennis shoes. But then he says everything else, we really want to narrow it down to three so that we can focus and have direction. Anything else, we get overwhelmed and confused.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got it.

Haley Perlus
But my three, for myself, I use the word bright, like I have this big sunshine of my mind, body, and spirit. What the sun gives the earth is what my brightness gives me. I’m curious as opposed to judgmental. So, I’m curious, I want to learn, I want to understand, I ask questions even though I may not like the answers, and I actively listen to you and to also what my body and my mind are telling me.

And so, each and every day that is my purpose, that’s my goal, that’s my intention. I also want to be kind. I also want to be generous. I also want to be empathetic. But if I try to be everything, I’ll be nothing. So, if I focus on those three, that will allow me to take action and I also will be so much more than just those three, but those three gives me purpose, gives me focus.

Pete Mockaitis
And is the idea that these three are pretty persistent as opposed to a shifting daily intention, like, “This is the best self and it’s what I’m going for day after day”?

Haley Perlus
I believe so. I’ve been playing around with it for myself for years, and it is rather consistent for me. For people who are just starting to figure out their best three words, sometimes you can play around, trial and error, you let it marinate for a little bit before you find it. But I do believe that when we do enough trial and error and self-awareness, we do land on three.

And then there’s a cool factor in this. It’s not just having your direction every day you wake up and you want to be these three things so that you can be your best self, it’s also catching yourself when you start to lose one of those words. So, when I’m not energized, when I’m not resilient to the first stressor of my day, for example, I immediately lose my curiosity. Hands down, it is the first word that goes.

So, as soon as I can catch myself no longer being curious, which usually means I’m judging someone or something, I can stop and reset instead of letting my entire best self get lost or sinking further and further into what I call my own quicksand of misery. I can stop and do something.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a turn of a phrase. Quicksand of misery. Yeah, I hear what you’re saying in terms of like that spiral or that inertia. I guess folks might say, colloquially, “Whoa, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” or, “I just noticed something that maybe I’m being judgmental. I see something that’s not right as it should be,” and then my brain starts thinking, “What’s wrong with people? Why are we doing it this way? Like, this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It’s so inconsiderate.”

And so then, it’s like I’m primed to notice other stuff that’s jacked up and messed up, and rail about that inside my head, so that’s no fun. So, when you do catch yourself, you notice, “Oh, I’m doing that thing,” but then what? What do you do about it?

Haley Perlus
There’s a couple of things but this is where we’re really talking now about a lot of recovery pauses. So, in life right now, and I say we, as in people in my field, we’re really trying to enforce the story of life is a sprint, no longer a marathon. What does that mean? Instead of just going, going, going, and if you start to not feel great, or start to be judgmental, “I don’t have time to reset. I just got to keep going.” No, it’s now a sprint. You stress and then you recover.

So, when I find myself losing my best self, I stop and I take a recovery pause. That might be one minute, it might be five minutes, ten minutes. And what do I do there? I reset, usually, my emotions because we are creatures of emotion. We’re emotional creatures. So, what does that mean? Maybe I listen to music, maybe I stick my head outside and get some fresh air, maybe I do some quick deep breathing, maybe I move my body, connect with a loved one, do gratitude. Anything that allows me just to reset my emotions, which then allows to come more into more of a neutral mindset, and then I can refocus and get back my curiosity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that lineup there. And so, we’ve got a variety of options on the menu to choose from, and they’re on the quick side – one, five, ten minutes. It’s funny, I’ve been finding cold water effective for resetting emotions because it’s hard to think about much else when your head is in a bucket of ice water or a cold shower.

Haley Perlus
I was just about to say, “What does that mean?” Are you literally pouring a bucket of cold water over your head?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I literally have a lovely piece of, I guess it’s Tupperware that I have in my office refrigerator that I will pull out and put my head into at times. So, that’s weird but I find it effective because it’s like, “Ooh.” If you’re in a funky mood, it’s hard to fixate on that, and it really does feel like a reset, it’s like, “Okay. Well, now we’re back to a neutral, chilly, energized place. Let’s reset.” I guess I got on a Wim Hof kick, which is how this all started.

Haley Perlus
Oh, there you go. Yeah, so you can do Wim Hof breathing if you don’t want to pour cold water over your head, you can follow it. But, funny enough, that’s actually…I was a ski racer and a ski coach, and even obviously sports psychologist for winter sport athletes, just one of the many sports. But we put ice cubes down our backs, our necks, and, again, just a wakeup call, just to get refreshed and renew some energy which it will allow us to then stop for a moment, rethink, reset to be our best self.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. And I want to go into some depth on some of these options. So, gratitude has come up a few times on the show. There’s a variety of ways to do it. How do you find is an effective means of gratitude that provides a reset?

Haley Perlus
Well, in moments where we need reset, in moments where we’ve lost our best self, usually we’re overwhelmed or frustrated, we’re feeling anxiety, and we don’t think we’re doing a good-enough job, or at least somebody else isn’t but we can only control ourselves. So, I like these two questions, “What have I already achieved today?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like it.

Haley Perlus
And, “What do I get to do next?” So, for example, “What have I already achieved today?” is very different than what I haven’t yet achieved, which is where I think most of us go, “I still have to do this. I haven’t done this. I wasn’t good enough at this. I didn’t have enough time for this.” But when you think about what you have achieved, it automatically puts you more in a pleasant emotional space, and patting yourself on your back increases some concentration, some focus and motivation.

“What do I get to do next?” is very different than the normal “What do I have to do next?” We’re always thinking about, “What email I have to respond to” “What call I have to get on” “What do I have to do?” “Who do I have to answer to?” That creates maybe some negativity, “Who do I get to support? How do I get to be challenged? What do I get to learn? What email do I get to be included on even though there’s 500 today?” Just the word “get,” a simple word choice changes our emotional experience, allows us to be a little bit more engaged in that next activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that so much and I’m reminded of I was listening to Bryan Cranston’s autobiography, and he said something really stuck with him. He’s on a set of a TV show and people are kind of grumbling about the early days, early mornings, late hours. And this guy on the set, who was like a much bigger star than him at the time, said simply, “Well, beats digging ditches,” in terms of like, “Yeah, this is a job and it’s hard sometimes but, relative to the alternatives, that’s something we get to do, which is pretty cool.”

Haley Perlus
Always could be worse. I guess you could go there, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s a really great question that focuses your brain into a positive direction. And I’m thinking something I’ve been wrestling with here with regard to, “Oh, emotions provide information and they’re useful, and we should, ideally,” so I’m told and I think I’ve reaped some value here, “be curious and explore them and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’” And, yet, at the same time, I find that when I do that, like if I’m in a funk, like, “Oh, what’s going on?” it’s like I’m very adept at coming up with a long list of things that are busted and I could be cranky about, and then I kind of feel worse.

And then one approach I’ve tried with some good results is I say, I ask myself, “Why might I feel amazing in five minutes?” because it’s not like I’m lying to myself, it’s like, “Why am I going to feel amazing in five minutes? You’re not. You’re still going to be tired and grumpy.” But it’s like, “Why might I?” Like, “Well, it’s quite possible that I could achieve this little thing and feel great that that’s no longer hanging over my head. It’s quite possible that, boy, I just needed a glass of water. It’s been a few hours. And that would hit the spot.”

So, I find that handy. Do you have any pro tips on engaging our emotions and/or positive refocusing questions that are super handy?

Haley Perlus
I do. I do agree that all emotions are okay. They all serve us. Being angry could drive us initially. Being angry or frustrated or fearful or worried or anxious or sad or depressed, all those unpleasant emotions, they do provide some self-awareness, they do provide polarity. I’m not a big believer in staying with them too long. I do like the non judgment. I do like the, “Hmm, okay, I’m angry.” But then I do need to get myself over to the pleasant side in order for me to do anything effectively with that anger.

If I need to communicate something to someone because that person created anger, I’m not going to be able to do that successfully staying angry, so I need to bring myself back over to one of more challenged, or something more positive, which will then allow me to be right, curious and listen. And then I can more effectively communicate why I was angry or the lesson learned. I feel like the lesson learned comes from the pleasant side.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that distinction in terms of the unpleasant emotion can highlight something that needs attention, and yet the attending to that something is often done more effectively in a more pleasant state of mind. That’s cool.

Haley Perlus
I agree. Yeah, that’s what I think. Now, when I think about, “Is okay that I bring back some sports?” I think people get really motivated by that anxiety. Sometimes, one popular athlete, that I’m sure we’ve all heard of, that used anger in the sense of rivalry even if there wasn’t a rival, he created one, was Michael Jordan.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Haley Perlus
However, when he stepped onto that court, it was strategy, it was tactics, it was the challenge of it. The anger definitely motivated him and got those chemicals and neurotransmitters and hormones running, and his enthusiasm. I don’t know personally but I’ve done enough research and I would like to say, and I hope he would agree with me, that when he got on the court, that anger turned much more into a challenge. And that is a pleasant emotion that allows us to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, any other favorite refocusing questions that you pose to yourself?

Haley Perlus
Like, I said, I do like to think less but more strategically. But I actually find myself, when I’m trying to reset my emotions, is not necessarily always use my mind but to use tactics that immediately change my emotion, like music.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Haley Perlus
I have a theme song. It’s a cheesy one. I don’t care, I use it. But, for example, my favorite movie of all time as a kid and as an adult is Flashdance,” and there is a song in Flashdance called “What A Feeling.” I’m sure many of your listeners have heard of it or know it and they’re smiling right now or making fun, but that’s okay. But I will tell you that if I’m finding myself anxious or overwhelmed or exhausted or sad, if I turn “What A Feeling” on, if I need a little bit of an emotional reset to peace, I just remind myself of dancing around my parents’ house as innocent and free as I possibly can.

If I’m about to go climb a mountain, metaphorically, but I also do climb mountains, but whatever that mountain might be, the lyrics are, “Take your passion, make it happen, dance through life,” so my resetting is not necessarily asking myself a question. It’s directing myself to the words of another song, of a song, that allows me to direct my mind elsewhere.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And so, you’ve got your theme song. Do you have sort of a playlist or a lineup of different songs for different purposes or is it always this go-to?

Haley Perlus
This is usually my go-to, the theme song, but I do have a playlist, a Perlus playlist, and it’s quite long because in that moment, sometimes I want the genre, sometimes I want the harmony, sometimes I want the lyrics, the tempo, so it’s rather long but, yes, I do have a Perlus playlist that in that playlist, there’s always going to be some song that I can press play to navigate me to an emotion that I want to experience. It is my reset.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, this is bringing me back to a teenage Pete Mockaitis enchanted by Tony Robbins, sharing how to shift your emotional state immediately, talking about shifting physiology and imagery, what’s you’re imagining, and dialogue, what you’re saying to yourself. And then I guess the imagery or the music would fall into that. Do you dig that framework or do you have another way you think about it in terms of levers to pull for an emotional reset?

Haley Perlus
Do you mean the imagery piece? I love the imagery piece.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Or like holding your body in a certain way, or breathing, or your power moves or whatever.

Haley Perlus
Oh, absolutely. It’s so funny, I started teaching this and my brothers, I have two brothers and they make fun of me all the time because I always tell people to take their shoulders up, back and down, and smile. So, if you take your shoulders up, back and down, you’re opening up your chest, you’re letting room for air to come through, not just stop at your chest but go through your diaphragm, smiling even through all that anger and disappointment, releases certain chemicals, gets your body language set up.

In person, when I get people to stand up and take their shoulders up, back, down and smile, then they give me a standing ovation, so it’s always nice to set the room up. So, I do believe in definitely body to mind techniques, and that would be an example of one. Setting up your body to create a mental space, to create mental fitness, to create positive or pleasant emotions.

Movement, forget about standing still, moving your body is scientifically the best way to change your emotional state from an unpleasant to a pleasant, whether it’s small movements, like rolling your shoulders; whether it’s stretching, opening your front body after we’re all typing and hunched over at our computers all day; going for a walk, large movements, getting fresh air if you can, even adding to it. Blood circulates through your body, blood carries oxygen, glucose, energy. It energizes us and it makes us go from an unpleasant to pleasant.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I dig it. And I’m also thinking about Dr. Andrew Huberman of the Huberman Lab’s podcast, which is fantastic, mentioned…and this is crazy. There’s good science to suggest, simply looking up can rally attention in terms of like what our eyeballs are doing and the signals that’s sending inside our brains. It is fascinating what is going on with the human body.

Haley Perlus
Straight up or to the right or to the left? Because I know we can read people depending on where they’re looking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, as my understanding, and I might be mistaken, is you’re even tilting upward your chin and head, so it’s up. Like, you’re looking at a tall tree or a bird in the sky, and that can spark some attentiveness. And I think it’s true in my own experience. He’s got the scientific studies and papers and such underlying it. But I’ve even elevated my desk a bit more so that I’m not hunched over downward looking all day but rather there’s a little bit of a tilt up, and I think it’s made a difference, so at the very least, it’s given me a placebo benefit, which I appreciate.

Haley Perlus
Which we’ll take, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’ll take that.

Haley Perlus
Yeah, that hunched over, orthopedic surgeons are now talking about the pandemic posture.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Yeah.

Haley Perlus
Yeah, that hunched over. So, yes, so stand up tall, get your chest lifted, smile, raise that emotional space. But you just reminded me of one more tip, if I can share, about resetting.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please.

Haley Perlus
Getting outside, especially now as we’re recording this, it’s summer. Getting outside and earthing. What does that mean? It means barefoot in the grass, hug a tree, lie down. And also, if you don’t want to hug a tree, although I do, while you’re just outside, just focus for a minute only on what you see. Then focus for a minute, or maybe 30 seconds, only on what you hear, then only on what you can smell, then only on what you feel underneath you.

And if you do feel something else in your hands or in your ears, the wind passing by, just focus on one sense at a time. And that allows you to also tune out your own stressors and tune in to the energy of the world. Nature.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. Well, so nice rundown there in terms of breaks. I wanted to also get your take on our attention spans, how do we improve them and beat distraction? I guess one thing is just, hey, make sure you’re taking good breaks, and so we’ve checked that box. What else do you recommend here?

Haley Perlus
Well, I know that it’s a hard one but I am with everyone else who believes that multitasking is one of the biggest energy drainers. So, though I live in this world too, so it’s not about I believe eliminating multitasking completely, but I do think that we can probably reduce multitasking in our lives to further increase our engagement and our attention span.

So, we need to ask ourselves and really be truthful, where can we reduce multitasking to increase our ability to focus on one thing at a time. And often, people will say, “Well, wait a second. I’ve got to do this email and that message and this call.” Well, then I propose us working on being a better juggler as opposed to a multitasker.

So, what does that mean? I don’t juggle balls physically but professional jugglers, no matter how many balls they have that they’re juggling with, there’s only one ball in their hand at one time. As soon as they have more than two balls, they make mistakes and they drop all of them. So, we need to just go back and forth, from one to the next, one to the next, one to the next. That allows us to maintain sharp attention span.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s just sort of a mindset shift there in terms of, ideally, maybe we just to do one thing for a while, and then do the next thing for a while, but if not, juggling works but with the goal of, “I’m focused on you and I’m now focused on this thing. And now, I’m focused on you,” as opposed to, “I’m focused on you and this thing at the same time.”

Haley Perlus
Yeah. And one of those things, I know we brought it up before, but just to enforce it. One of those things is recovery, “I’m focused for these five minutes on recovery, and then I come back to this email, or this phone call, or this task.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then any tips when it comes to exercising our brains so that we are effectively able to engage and recover, and to engage and recover, and to keep on getting better and better?

Haley Perlus
Yeah, use it but be deliberate. So, right now, crossword puzzles or Wordle or Sudoku, those games, even video games, with my athletes, my sport athletes in my consulting practice, we actually train our brains using video games and games on the computer. In fact, some of us are so good that we tune out the rest of the world and we can go for hours. We don’t necessarily want that though. We need to have discipline and we don’t want to have the addiction but we need to use our brain and deliberately focus in, in order to increase our attention span.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then an exercise might mean like, “This is what I’m focused on for the next hour. Period.” Like, that kind of a thing, like, “This is what we’re doing here.”

Haley Perlus
Yeah, there’s something that you can just search it on the internet but I do it in my presentations. It’s called the concentration grid. And all it is, is 99 numbers scrambled up in a grid, it starts 00 and they’re all scrambled up to 99. And then you time yourself, not even an hour, I do a minute. And in a minute, you see, you start at 00, then 01, then 02, and you have to go and find these numbers in order as fast as you can and see how high you can get.

So, I’ll do this with the people that I’m consulting with, and then I will try to distract them. So, I will go and distract them with noise and with words, I tell them 30 seconds left, I tell them, and they have to literally focus on tuning me out. It’s the only time they can deem me irrelevant but if they hear me, I’m supposed to come into their presence and then leave, and they have to stay focused on their number.

So, that’s just an example of an exercise in concentration grit. You purposely engage in, again, Sudoku or Wordle or a crossword puzzle, or even a video game, or an app game, momentarily you tune in with the intention of deeming everything else irrelevant, and that’s going to increase your attention span. We just don’t want to become addicted because then we lose focus on everything else.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, when one is doing these exercises, you want to have some sort of distractor in the mix to practice the ignoring?

Haley Perlus
You can play around with it but I think that’s real life. Even though I’m trying to focus on this, on speaking with you, I have intentionally turned off everything so I will not get pinged, I will not get dinged. But in the real world, if we’re sending an email, we might get a text, we might get a message, someone might come into the room, so we have to practice real life. It’s simulation for real life, being able to focus in on this one exercise, knowing that you’re going to be distracted, but letting those distractions come and let them go. They’re irrelevant. What’s relevant is the exercise you’re focusing on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you’ve got some perspective on the connection between hydration and performance. Let’s hear it.

Haley Perlus
I sure do. Well, we are two-thirds…our brains are two-thirds water, so we need water to, yeah, there you go, have a sip, and I have my water here too. But water is so many things. But when I think about attention span and our brain, I look at water as a cleansing tool. It flushes out all the toxins, flushes out all the negative stuff, flushes out all the things that we no longer need. It’s a cleansing tool. It also is an energizing tool. It lubricates, it hydrates, it gives us energy.

So, as we’re consistently drinking water throughout the day, we’re actually giving our brains energy as well as cleansing. Plus, when we’re dehydrated, that in and of itself is a distraction. Our bodies react to that. Our brains react to that. We become exhausted. So, that’s an unnecessary distraction. We can fix that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I guess how much is enough? I mean, I think some people will say, “You know, I drink water when I’m thirsty, and that’s fine, right?” What do you think?

Haley Perlus
Well, often the nutritionists and the experts will say if you’re thirsty, you’ve waited too long. And then, yes, the question is, “How much?” So, we’ve all heard eight glasses a day, or half your body weight in ounces. Just drink more. I don’t often come across anyone who is overhydrated. Most of us are dehydrated, so just drink more.

And here’s a thing. Get into the ritual of drinking first thing in the morning. There’s something that I used to do for myself before I became a regular water drinker. Every night before I go to bed, I pour myself a glass of water and lemon. To me, it was easier to drink water with lemon. And lemon is also very alkalizing so it does to provide energy. But I pour myself a glass of water and lemon, and I put it on my night table before I go to bed.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do before anything, especially before I brush my teeth, is drink that water and lemon. And it started off as just two ounces, then four ounces. And now I drink 32 ounces of water in the morning. Sometimes I have coffee, sometimes I don’t, sometimes I have green juice, like celery juice, but I’m always getting my water, and it’s now a habit because I’ve gotten used to that morning ritual.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious about bathroom trips. Sometimes I find myself reluctant to drink more water just because I don’t want to be hassled with more trips to the bathroom. How do you think about this?

Haley Perlus
Well, remember, I said pour the water and lemon the night before but don’t drink it.

Pete Mockaitis
Not the night before but the morning of.

Haley Perlus
Yeah, you drink it the morning of.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, daytime trips to the bathroom.

Haley Perlus
Yeah. Well, I would rather have that problem than the problems that will come if I’m dehydrated.

Pete Mockaitis
So, are we talking like ten plus visits a day then?

Haley Perlus
Yeah, that’d be a lot. I’m not going to lie. I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s the quote of the show. We’ll put that on the graphic. That’s good. Thank you.

Haley Perlus
You’re welcome. I feel like you needed to get that out of me.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s true, like there’s a genuine tradeoff. And it’s so funny, I think the same lazy brain, for me at least, that’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to get up and pour a glass of water,” is the same lazy brain who can rationalize or justify, it’s like, “Oh, I’ve already been to the bathroom like five times. I don’t want to go again.” And so, you’re going on record as saying that, yes, there is more time spent visiting the bathroom but you’re more than making up for that time with the improved benefits of hydration. Is that fair to say?

Haley Perlus
I believe that I am more efficient, I believe that I’m more focused, I believe that I’m a peak performer because I’m a peak peer. And I will tell you though, it also forces you to get up and move. It forces you to get out of your seat so there’s other benefits that come with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Haley, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?

Haley Perlus
I think with this life, this Groundhog Day, the wash, rinse, repeat, the wash, rinse, repeat, it’s not necessarily that we need to increase our attention span. Many of us actually have good focusing skills, but because we’re stagnant all day and we’re inactive all day and we’re just doing the same thing over and over again, the boredom kicks in, the complacency kicks in. So, I think it’s important that we look for variety wherever we can. If you’ve been staring at this wall for half a day, maybe turn around and stare at a different wall. Add variety to your life wherever you can because that variety will also create energy which will allow us to focus and be able to be more engaged.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Haley Perlus
I don’t know that it’s a favorite quote but I will tell you what I use for myself when I get distracted or overwhelmed, and it’s more of a mantra, “Right, left, right, left, right left,” and also something that my significant other is now forcing upon me because I’m learning something new, and I get a little bit fearful, “Get your eyes wide open.”

When we are consumed with all of our fears, when we’re consumed with all of our anxieties, or our shyness, or our overwhelm, or our confusion, or anything that’s creating that negative energy, open your eyes, look around you, take something in. So, I really like to put myself…make myself small, if I will, and really look at the bigger picture, eyes wide open.

And then the “Right, left, right left,” is something that I do for myself as well, because when it looks impossible, when a mountain looks impossible to climb, whatever that mountain is for you, I know that I can get my right foot forward, and then I know that I can get my left foot, so really break it down. So, I don’t know if it’s a quote but it certainly words that I live by to allow me to refocus or stay focused and just plan and determined and have my most consistent performances.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Haley Perlus
Well, interestingly enough, I was just sharing this with my 13-year-old nephew a couple week ago who had to do a simulated TED Talk for his school, and he wanted to do it on sports psychology. And so, I shared with him the first study, the first documented study, for sure, in sports psychology which was by Norman Triplett. And he researched cyclists and he wanted to compare cyclists’ performance alone compared to where cyclists are in the presence of other athletes.

And when you’re in the presence of other people, at least in this study, you perform better. And it’s an interesting topic of discussion right now because of the hybrid environments and working from home versus in an office environment and the social facilitation. And so, this is a study that I’m really highlighting back and bringing back to my world and others because I do believe that we perform better when we are amongst others, not necessarily competition. I do believe that competition allows for that, too, but I do believe in being connected and being in the presence of others to help us perform better and be happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And a favorite book?

Haley Perlus
Well, yes, Robert Cialdini, that’s actually, to this day, my favorite book. I think it’s great The Psychology of Persuasion, but specifically, yes, and really looking to see how we can persuade ourselves to take action, what messages we need to tell ourselves to take action. So, it’s an oldie but, still, it’s one of my favorites.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And a favorite habit?

Haley Perlus
I’ll be honest, I’m really proud of myself for sticking with this water thing. It was not easy for me because I didn’t like the taste of water, and I just wasn’t a good water drinker, and, really, every morning I wake up, I drink water and lemon. I often now drink some green juice, and that starts my day. In addition, I make my bed every single morning, and I believe that that is super important to start my day off organized and structured, even though I’m pretty flexible and I wouldn’t consider myself a structured human being. But making my bed in the morning allows me to feel fresh and clean when I do start the day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really connects and resonates with audiences; they quote it back to you often?

Haley Perlus
People say it’s hard, people say change is hard. When we talk about changing these, replacing negative habits with good ritual, people say it’s hard. And I say, “I know. So what?” And I think that just kind of puts…and I do to it myself as well. I think that kind stops us in our tracks, and we’re like, “Okay. So what? That’s going to be hard.” And I say it with all the love in my heart, “So what?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Haley Perlus
My website is the best place to find me. You can opt in for communications. You can actually connect with me directly through there. So, it’s DrHaleyPerlus.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Haley Perlus
Well, I don’t know what time everyone is listening to this, so depending on the time, the very next morning you have, what do you get to do? You get to drink water first thing in the morning and hydrate your brain, focus in.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Haley, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun and peak performance.

Haley Perlus
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me.



712: How to Turn Pressure into Power with Dane Jensen

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dane Jensen says: "Pressure is energy. It actually can help."

Dane Jensen shares powerful tactics for staying calm and confident in the face of pressure.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The equation that explains why we feel pressure 
  2. Why time management won’t solve your workload problems
  3. The questions that make us “good at pressure” 

 

About Dane

Dane Jensen is the CEO of Third Factor, an acclaimed speaker, an instructor at Queen’s University and the University of North Carolina, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and the author of The Power of Pressure. 

Dane oversees Third Factor’s delivery of leadership development programs to leading firms across North America including SAP, RBC, Uber, Twitter, the USGA, and others. He teaches in the Full-Time and Executive MBAs at Queen’s Smith School of Business in Canada and is Affiliate Faculty with UNC Executive Development at the Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill. 

In addition to his corporate work, Dane works extensively with athletes, coaches, leaders and Boards across Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic sport system to enhance National competitiveness. He has worked as an advisor to Senior Executives in 23 countries on 5 continents. 

Resources Mentioned

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Dane Jensen Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dane, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Dane Jensen
Hey, thanks so much, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, we’re talking about pressure, so I’m going to put some pressure on you right from the get-go, if I may, and say, Dane, I’d love for you to kick us off with a riveting and instructional story that tees up some of the concepts of your book The Power of Pressure: Why Pressure Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution.

Dane Jensen
Yeah, I think one of the beautiful things about how I wrote this book is it was all story-driven. I asked as many interesting people as I could find one question, which is, “What’s the most pressure you’ve ever been under?” And I found out that this question is kind of like a magic portal. Like, on the other side of this question, no matter who you asked this question of, there is a really, really interesting story.

And so, I’ll tell you a story about a woman named Jen, who is a manager at a government agency. And when I asked her about the most pressure she’d ever been under, she flashed back to this period of her career, where she was responsible for planning the communication of an organizational restructuring. And so, two agencies had been merged, everybody kind of knew they were going to be layoffs, there was going to be a restructuring, it had been a couple of months at this time, so nervous anticipation was building. And then, finally, the day arrived, this incredibly well-orchestrated day that Jen and her team had been working on for a couple of months.

And so, Jen’s morning was spent having four one-on-one conversations with people who are being let go, so a pretty tough morning. And then she raced across town to the conference center where they were about to kick off six simultaneous regional meetings where they were going to announce the strategy and the restructuring that was happening.

And so, she parks herself in the biggest region. About half the people are there in person, half of them are joining remotely through Zoom or by phone, and it is one minute to 1:00 p.m. when the meeting is going to kick off, and the AV fails completely. Nobody can dial in, nobody can hear, nobody can see. The regional president looks at Jen, because she’s the person who planned this. She looks around for an AV team, there was no AV team in the room.

She tears out of the room, down the hallway, and she decides to take a shortcut through a stairwell. She gets into the stairwell, the door closes behind her, and she hears a click. She runs over to the door, grabs it, locked. Looks down on her phone, she has no cell service because of the concrete walls. She is locked inside of a fire escape with no cell service and 600 people on the other side who were wondering if they still have jobs.

And I use this as a microcosm of when you ask people what’s the most pressure they’ve ever been under, you get an unbelievable range of life experiences. And so, the first insight for me from this is when you talk to Jen about what the moment was like of peak pressure, when she realized that the meeting was falling apart and she tore out of the room and was running towards the stairwell, she talks about how, and these are her words, “My focus narrowed to the point where I could not see what to do next. It was like my mind was racing but it wasn’t computing anything.”

And I think this, to me, is a wonderful kind of tee up for the problems of pressure. We’re going to talk about why pressure can be the solution but the real problem of pressure is when it gets incredibly intense, it actually shrinks our world dramatically. Our attention starts to tunnel. We can access less of our expertise. We can take in less information from the external environment. And so, this example, for me, really tees up what are we trying to solve for when it comes to pressure.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is powerful. And so, let’s talk about that problem and what it does to us. And you’ve got an interesting equation in terms of importance, uncertainty, and volume are components. How does this work in terms of…? Because I was thinking about your equation as you told that story, it’s like, “Okay, we got some importance. Okay, we got some uncertainty. Okay, we got a lot.” So, what is sort of that perfect storm, it’s like, “Yup, this is what pressure feels like and where it comes from”?

Dane Jensen
And this was the first mission in writing the book, was as I asked more and more people this question, I got totality of life itself back. We had lots of people talking about kind of, I guess, standard pressure moments – so, big presentations, a critical sales meeting, an entrance exam, a job interview – so that kind of stuff definitely came up.

But then we also had stories of people, a guy who went for a swim and, all of a sudden, realized he was too far from shore and the tide was going out, and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get back, people who were carrying demanding jobs while dealing with dying parents. So, one of my first tasks was to kind of look at this incredible range of human experience, and start to go, “Okay, what is similar across these very different experiences?” And I think that’s where the equation came from. It’s to say, “Okay, as different as these things are, when we talk about pressure, all high-pressure situations are characterized by some combination of three things.”

So, the first thing that has to be there for us to feel pressure, as humans, is importance. If what I’m doing doesn’t matter to me, if it’s not important, if the outcome doesn’t matter to me in some way, I’m not going to feel pressure. But importance alone doesn’t create pressure. We also need uncertainty because no matter how much something matters to me, if it’s certain, if the outcome is clear, it’s not really going to create that much pressure.

And so, we really, as human beings, where we start to feel the experience of pressure, which is really an internal experience, it’s a response to an external circumstance, we feel it at that intersection of, “Hey, this really matters to me, and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” And then volume really is the multiplier. So, it’s like, as human beings, yeah, we’ve had to exist in important and uncertain situations since the dawn of time. In the modern world, I think what creates the grind of pressure is just the sheer volume of tasks and decisions and distractions that kind of surround our important uncertain moments.

And so, these three things can combine in very different ways, Pete. So, Jen’s situation, for me, is a perfect example of what we talked about as peak pressure moments, which are like violent collisions of importance and uncertainty. Like, acutely important, “I’ve been working on this for months, the regional president is looking right at me, this is falling apart,” and tons of uncertainty.

There are other situations, when we talk about the long haul of pressure, or the grind, those tend to be less about like hugely important, highly uncertain, and more just about grinding volume, “I’m just carrying a ton of uncertainty through a long period of time, and it gets really heavy.” And a lot of the stories and experiences I heard from COVID, they tend to fall a little bit more onto that pattern of just constant uncertainty and just grinding volume. But those three things are what kind of combine to create pressure for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, that’s good to know right there. When I think about importance for a while, there are sometimes I feel pressure and it’s because of something is really important to me, and I realize there are many other people for whom this would not be a big deal and would not be important to them but it’s important to me. And it’s almost like I wish I cared less so there’d be less importance and I’d feel less pressure.

And so, Dane, I don’t know, I have a feeling it’s not the solutions you’re going to be putting forward. But I’ve been there, it’s like, “Ah, could I care about this a little bit less so I could feel less pressure?”

Dane Jensen
Yeah. Well, listen, man, I think you’re onto something there. Like, I think what I learned is that everyone of these parts of the equation – importance, uncertainty, and volume – they are all kind of double agents. Pressure itself is kind of a double agent, right? Where do more world records get set than anywhere else in sports? The Olympics, right, because there’s pressure. Pressure is energy. It actually can help and we know that pressure can also be dangerous if it’s left unchecked. It can lead to burnout and stress and all that stuff that we see in the growing conversation of workplace mental health.

So, I think all of these things, what’s interesting about them is it’s a little bit of a matter of dosage. So, importance, just to build off of what you’re talking about, we’ve heard for years, you got to start with why. You got to get really clear on why something matters to you, the purpose behind what you’re doing. And, actually, that is a really important part of the long haul of pressure. If I’m going through the grind of 12 really tough months, or raising a child, like I got to really have a line of sight to, “Why does this matter to me? How is this helping me grow? How is what I’m doing contributing? How is this bringing me closer to people that I care about?” the big stuff.

And, to your point, when we kind of cross from the long haul of pressure into these acute peak pressure moments, actually the issue typically isn’t that, “I don’t have a line of sight to my why. It’s like the why is crushing me. Like, I am just overwhelmed by how important this present…” So, one of the tools that I introduce in the book is this ability to kind of pivot a little bit.

So, if you take a very simple example that, hopefully, some of your listeners can relate to, if I’m prepping for a big presentation, let’s say it’s a sales presentation that I’ve got to give, I actually want to, during the preparation phase, consciously focus on importance. The fact that there’s a commission cheque at stake here, that this could be an input to an early promotion, that this is a good test of my abilities, that I can contribute revenue to the bonus, whatever it is that makes this matter to me.

When I’m about to step into the room and actually deliver that presentation, I have to consciously switch my attentional focus using one question, which is, “What is not at stake for me here? What are the important things in my life that will not change regardless of the outcome of this presentation? I want to focus on the fact that I’m still going to have a job, I’m still going to have the love of my friends and family, my colleagues will still respect me.”

Because those are the things, those unchanging things, that’s what frees me up to perform. If I carry the commission cheque and the early promotion, if I carry all that into the presentation, it’s going to be a disaster. So, you’re absolutely right, there are situations where the real question I want to be focused on is, “What makes this a little less important?” because often we get fixated and we expand the stakes mentally as we’re heading into those moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s beautiful so much there in terms of the distinction between preparation and performance, like play the game a little bit differently. And then we have the choice to dial it up or down in terms of onboard and I don’t feel like preparing well. This commission cheque is at stake. We increase the importance and the pressure, versus, “I’m freaking out a little bit. It’s the big moment.” It’s like we can decrease the importance and pressure, like, “Hey, you know what, my wife and kids aren’t going to leave me. They’ll still be here even if I just scream obscenities at everybody in the room and botch it as badly as one could possibly botch it. My wife and kids will still be there as well my friends.” And so, that is good.

Dane Jensen
And even simple anchors, Pete. I have a vivid memory of a day that I spent in my consulting career, and this is going to sound like a very first-world problem. I was consulting to a company in northern Italy, and I had parked my car outside of the hotel the morning before I had to go give a critical presentation to the senior leadership at this organization. And I woke up the next morning and the entire square outside of my hotel had been converted to a farmer’s market, and every car that had been in the square that night before had been towed.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through the wonderful experience of trying to navigate the Italian auto impound system as somebody who doesn’t speak Italian, but this was not the way I wanted to start my day before a critical presentation to a big client. And the thing that really got me through it was in that moment going, “You know what, one way or another, at 6:00 o’clock tonight, I’m going to be sitting down, eating dinner, and having a cold beer. And nothing that happens in the next three hours is going to change that. It’s going to be 6:00 o’clock, we’re going to eat our meal, we’re going to have a drink, and we’re going to go on with the day.”

And so, I do think, because our attention can run away from us and get so…it’s like a spotlight. What we focus our attention on, it comes right into the foreground and everything else recedes into the background. A lot of this is about consciously directing that spotlight to, “Okay, what are the things that I need to focus on right now that maybe are getting lost in the glare of where my attention is kind of gravitationally getting pulled?”

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, Dane, so much excellence here in terms of what’s not stake in consulting. And that brings me back to some stories where I was new in consulting and making some errors, which was embarrassing for me and the team. And I had an awesome manager who was sharing some perspectives in terms of like, “Hey, well, it’s just work and nobody’s dying. But, yeah, you’ve made some mistakes that kind of hurt our credibility there and so we got to get a plan.”

And so, I appreciated that perspective, like that’s what happened. I was new, I made some mistakes, but no one was dead, which is not true of some professions. You make mistakes, people may die. But I make mistakes in my spreadsheet and it’s just a little annoying and embarrassing.

Dane Jensen
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, we talked about when you feel the pressure, your mind can run away from you, you can narrow your focus. And some tools there, we talked about dialing up or down the importance via thinking about what’s at stake, what’s not at stake. Any tips on how we move the levers of uncertainty and volume?

Dane Jensen
Yeah. And I think your tee up here, which is, “Hey, it’s just PowerPoint. There are some situations where the stakes are life and death.” And that’s often a question that I get when I talk about importance kind of as a standalone topic, it’s like, “Well, what if it really is a life-and-death situation? Is it really going to work to think about what’s not at stake here?” And the answer is, “Not really.”

I think of the equation kind of like a bag of golf clubs or a set of chef’s knives. If you are truly in a high-pressure situation where lives are at stake, you’re probably going to want to focus less on importance and more on uncertainty. Because uncertainty, as human beings, we experience uncertainty in a very similar fashion to physical pain. And Olivia Fox Cabane wrote about this in her great book, The Charisma Myth, that the brain, actually, similar parts of the brain light up under uncertainty as they do under physical pain.

And so, if you look at kind of the evolutionary biology of all of this, the human beings who craved uncertainty, who heard the kind of rustle in the bushes, and were like, “Huh, wonder what that is?” And, yeah, they didn’t tend to do too well. So, most of us are not particularly comfortable with uncertainty. And so, when we are in these peak pressure moments, similar to importance, in peak pressure, the goal with uncertainty is quite straightforward. It’s we want to redirect our attention from what we can’t control to what we can control, and begin to act as soon as humanly possible. Because the second we start to act on uncertainty, the second we start to make progress, that’s when the pressure from uncertainty begins to abate.

And this really got landed for me. I heard a wonderful metaphor from a guy named Martin Reader, who’s an Olympic beach volleyball player. He represented Canada in the 2016 Rio Games. And he talked about how when you’re playing beach volleyball, there is so much that is out of your control. The opponents are out of your control, the officials are out of your control, the crowd is out of your control, the weather is out of your control. You’re literally standing on shifting sands, which is kind of a metaphor for uncertainty, but also a literal thing.

And he said, “The one thing that you can control in volleyball is the serve. When you are standing behind the service line and you have the ball, that’s the one time that you’re in control.” And so, he tells a story about when they had to qualify for the 2016 games, they knew they were going to have to go into Mexico and beat the Mexican team in order to qualify.

And he said, “We knew this was going to be really tough because the Mexican team was a good team. It was going to be a really hostile crowd, which sometimes influences the officiating.” And so, he said, “For six months, my partner and I, we practiced this very non-traditional serve.” And he said, “At a critical moment in the third game, I moved to this complete other spot on the service line, and I served the ball they had no idea was coming for an ace, and that really punched our ticket to Rio, to the Olympics.”

And so, he said, “Since that moment, whenever I find myself in a situation where things are really out of my control, I ask myself, ‘What’s your serve? What is your serve in this situation?’” And, again, I talked about the spotlight and redirecting attention, this, to me, is another one of those great attentional anchors, to go, “Hey, with everything else that’s out of my control, what is my serve in this situation?” And I think one of the things we want to recognize is no matter what the situation is, you might ask yourself that question, go, “I got no serve. This whole thing is out of my control.” There are a couple of things that we always have control over, that are permanent serves for us as human beings.

So, one of them is breathing. No matter what situation you’re in, breathing is a serve. When I start to get my physiology under control, when I move my breathing down into my diaphragm, when I slow it down to five to six breaths a minute, that’s a way that I can start to access certainty and control. You can’t have a racing mind with a calm body. If you can get your body under control, it’s very hard to have a racing mind.

The second thing that we always have control over, that can always be a serve, is perspective. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, he talked about having, through his time in the Nazi concentration camps, the Nazis could take pretty much everything. They could take food. They could take clothing. They could take shelter. He said, “The one thing they couldn’t take was my ability to choose to see what I was going through as a meaningful experience.” And he talked about that as the last human freedom. That ability to choose how we are going to look at what we’re going through, that’s another serve that we always have. That’s always within our control. That’s always something that we can act on.

And so, routine is another one. You look at people in sports, before a tennis player serves the ball, what do they do? They have a constant routine that allows them to exert control. So, I do think, when it comes to uncertainty, A, the question, “What’s my serve?” but then, B, having a couple of kind of go-to serves, so to speak, where you go, “These are the things that I’m going to do that are going to serve as beachheads of control under peak pressure,” that can really pay dividends when you’re walking into high-stake situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Dane, that is powerful stuff in terms of, that question, “What is my serve?” I think when you really visualize that in terms of, “Literally, what is the equivalent of a ball in my hand that I have the choice of what to do with right now?” that’s huge. And so, your choices in terms of how you interpret and view things, how you breathe, that’s excellent. So, let’s hear about volume then.

Dane Jensen
Yeah. So, volume is an interesting one because it’s easy to react in a way that seems like it’s going to help that actually ends up hurting – and that’s time management. I think when volume is the dominant thing creating pressure, and I think, frankly, for many of us, volume is the dominant thing creating pressure. When I talk to people in organizations, I do a lot of workshops on this stuff, and one of the questions we’ll ask is, “Okay, what are the things right now that are taking away the fun, keeping you rushing, causing you anxiety?” And, inevitably, the answer is some version of “Not enough time,” or, “Too many priorities,” which are kind of just flipsides of the same thing.

And so, I think when volume is creating pressure, it kind of makes intuitive sense to turn to time management, it’s like, “Okay, the issue is I’ve got too much stuff to do. The solution is I need to become more efficient and get it done. That’s how I’m going to make progress. That’s how I’m going to start to exert control and tamp down uncertainty.” The challenge with time management is that time management is a trap. If you think about people who get really good at time management, what do they get? Do get more volume or less volume? They get more volume.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, because they’re entrusted with, “Hey, great job, Dane. You really crushed that. Here are some more stuff for you.”

Dane Jensen
Most of us are working in organizations where if you do a really good job, it’s like, “You know what, we’re going to be so efficient that we can shrink our meetings from an hour and a half to an hour. That’s going to open up 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. on my calendar.” The second 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. opens up on your calendar, what happens? Someone is like, boom, calendar invite, like, “I noticed you have a free hour from 1:00 to 2:00. It’d be great if you could join this project kickoff.” It’s like putting up a signal flare that’s like, “Hey, I have some free time.”

And so, the example I always use is there’s this wonderful Dilbert cartoon where Catbert, the consultant, is talking to the manager, the boss, and he says, “Hey, how do you guys reward your high-performers around here?” And the boss says, “Oh, we load them up with work until they become average performers.” And, to me, that’s time management. It’s like digging a hole in the beach. The bigger the hole you dig, the more water is going to rush in there to fill it.

And this is not to crap on time management. Time management is a really important productivity tool but it’s not a solution to pressure, and those are two different things. Time management absolutely helps with productivity, but it doesn’t alleviate pressure because it just allows you to get more done. It actually allows you to increase the volume that you’re kind of faced with.

And so, when we talk about volume, there’s really two imperatives that I kind of start to dig into. The first is, listen, if we are going to choose a high-pressure life, which I suspect most people listening, if you’ve taken the time to opt into a podcast like this one, you are choosing a high-performing life, and that’s going to be accompanied by volume. And so, we have to take care of the physical platform that allows us to handle a high-volume life: that’s sleep, that’s nutrition, that’s movement. So, that stuff has to be there so that we’re not just exhausted all the time.

But the flipside to that is, instead of just managing our time to try to accommodate everything, we have to get ruthless at how we are using that capacity. And that means really hitting the root causes of volume, which are, “What are the tasks that we permit? What are the decisions that we are making on a routine or regular basis? And what are the distractions that are taking us away from the volume that we really should be focused on?”

And so, when I think about productive strategies that actually get at the root causes of volume, they are strategies to hold the line on tasks, “What am I saying yes and no to?”; there are strategies that eliminate decisions, “How do I create rules, principles, that eliminate the number of decisions, or minimize the number of decisions that I have to make on a daily basis?”; and, “How do I put structure in place that is going to allow me to avoid distractions?”

So, those are kind of the core three, and we can dig into any one of those three that you want, but those, to me, are kind of the root of, “How do we actually manage volume as opposed to just accommodate it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I like that that is a nice set of tools that seem to sort of cover the gamut pretty nicely. Boy, we could have a whole episode on them. But maybe give me your favorite tactic amongst those three, like, “This is game-changing and pretty easy for people.”

Dane Jensen
let’s talk about tasks. And, listen, there’s two reasons that we overwhelm ourselves with tasks, and it really kind of depends on your span of control in the organization. We can overwhelm ourselves with tasks because of tasks we take on ourselves. So, we’re just over-optimistic about what we can accomplish, and so we kind of opt in or we kind of seek out more than we can handle, and that starts to create pressure. We can also accumulate too many tasks because they’re imposed upon us, we get assigned them by our managers or our bosses.

And so, for each of those two streams, and it’s not a binary thing. Usually, it’s some combination of those two. There’s a tactic that I think is worth exploring and trying. So, the first is if you are the kind of person that is just over-optimistic and opts into too many things, I am a huge believer in calendar blocking. And I just think, the fact that we have, all of us, simultaneously a calendar and a to-do list, creates a lot of the challenges that get people to take on too much. Because we look at our calendars, and we go, “Oh, yeah, I have space from 1:00 to 2:00 tomorrow.” But the issue is that our calendars really only show the commitments that we’ve made that involve other people.

The to-do list is basically a parallel calendar, it is a parallel set of commitments to our time, they just happen to not involve other people. It’s work that we need to process independently. And so, I think if you fall into that camp of constantly opting into stuff, and then going, “Oh, crap. Like, I got to get this done on a weekend,” you want to merge your calendar and your to-do list. Like, find time on your calendar for every item on your to-do list, and actually block it so that you have a real representation of all of the things that have a claim on your time before you start making decisions around what else you can take on because, otherwise, you’re just deluding yourselves. And I think that’s where the kind of over-optimism comes from.

So, that, to me, is one very practical way to start to get a more real view of, “What are the tasks that I actually have room to accommodate?” If the tasks are being imposed on you, if it’s more a case of just somebody else, like, “I need this. And I need it by Monday,” I think it’s really uncomfortable for most people, in particular, folks that are a little more junior in organizations, to just say, “Listen, I can’t do that. Like, I don’t have enough time to do that.” That’s often something seen as career-limiting. It’s a little bit of an uncomfortable conversation.

And so, my recommendation on that one is take that out of the binary world of like, “I can do this,” or, “I can’t do it,” and start to use those as jumping off points to have prioritization conversations, “Okay, so you need me to pull this deck together for Monday. All right. Here are the other two things that are on my plate for Monday. Where do you want me to rank this one? Is this the most important of those three? Is this in the middle?”

And we’re not having a kind of like “Me versus you” conversation, where like, “You’re asking me to do something and I’m saying, ‘No, I can’t do it.’” Now, we’re having a conversation together around, “What’s the order that I should be thinking about these things in? What are the ones that are more important or less important?” So, those are kind of two separate roads, I guess, of kind of the same outcome but a little bit different context.

Pete Mockaitis
And I don’t want to roleplay this for too long, Dane, but if you’ll indulge me just a smidge. So, if you have that conversation with a manager, director, VP, whomever, someone more senior, and they give you an unsatisfying response of, “Well, hey, they’re all important. They all need to get done,” what do you do then?

Dane Jensen
And I think this is where we want to be polite, be persistent, it’s like, “Totally agree. Okay, so which one should I do first?” or, “Where do you want me to start?” And I think the ability to continue to have the discussion, “Listen, I have to pick one to do first, and I have to pick one to do last,” that’s where we want to keep driving the nail in.

And, actually, this has come up a few times where people are like, “Well, my manager just won’t have those conversations.” Like, I keep getting responses, like, “Everything is important.” And this is where I think a big part of managing pressure is my ability to come face to face with my own personal power, my ability to connect with self-efficacy, that I have the ability to choose what I am going to tolerate, what I am not going to tolerate.

I think if you have a manager who repeatedly, over time, just says, “Everything is important, and you need to get it all done,” that, to me, is a signal that if you have a good relationship with that person, now is the time for some upward feedback, which is, “Let’s have a conversation around what I really need from you as a manager in order to perform at a high level.” And if that continues, like, to me, who on earth wants to work for someone who refuses to have a productive conversation with them about what’s most important around here?

So, I really do think that the end of that conversation, for me, is like, over time, I have a boss who refuses to help me prioritize my work, get out of dodge. Like, find a better place to work. Find a better manager. That sounds flippant, but I genuinely think that that should be a very basic expectation of a leader, that they can do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And you’re right, and I think like there may be rare moments where it’s true, everything is important and everything is urgent at the same time. And I think a great manager would be like, “Dane, I’m sorry. This is a terrible week and, unfortunately, it seems like what’s going to be necessary is that you work until midnight several days in a row. It’s unfortunate that we’re here now but we are, and I’d like to figure out how to get you some time off in the next week to make up for it. But, darn it, this is what the reality is on this particular week.” I think that both things can be true, that everything must be done, and your manager could be cool and humane about the implications of that.

Dane Jensen
Listen, I think that’s a great point, Pete. There are busy periods in every job. If it’s tax season, and you’re an accountant, like, legally, everything has to get done by a certain date. It’s not like there’s a lot of wiggle room there. We got to do everybody’s taxes by the time they need to file them. So, I totally agree with you, and I think the main thing for me is it becomes a conversation.

So, what I liked about you just laid out there is, “I’m having a discussion as a manager to paint a really clear picture here of this is a period in time in which we’re going to be asking a lot of you. Here are the commitments that I’m making around that, that this is going to be time-bound, that I’m going to work with you productively to find some time to recover, and that I see and appreciate the extra effort that you’re putting in here. It actually matters.”

That, to me, is very different than a leader who simply says, like, “Everything is important. Get it all done on Monday and have it on my desk.” So, I totally agree that those things can co-exist, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so while we’re talking still on the managing pressure, if it’s, I guess, maybe the problem side of things, if you will. You have a very compelling teaser bullet for your book, “We can reduce tension, sleep better, and have more energy so that you can meet challenges head-on.” It sounds like we’ve figured out a few levers for some of that. But, tell me, any other pro tips on the sleeping better and enhancing energy side of things?

Dane Jensen
Yeah, I think the…and this comes from the subtitle of the book, which is, “Why Pressure Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution.” I think the thing that we want to recognize about pressure is that, really, pressure is just a word that we use to label a ball of energy. Pressure is energy. When you look at, physiologically, what happens to our body under pressure – it’s adrenaline, it’s cortisol, it’s muscle tension, it’s faster blood flow, more oxygen. Like, it’s just energy.

And I think that energy can be productive if it’s channeled appropriately. Certainly, many of us who have had kids, what is it that allows you to be an empathetic and patient human being on no sleep when you feel like you’re screwing everything up? It’s the energy that accompanies the pressure that you feel. And so, I think pressure can be a source of energy if it is channeled appropriately.

And so, if we look at a lot of the tactics that we’ve been talking about, it’s like, “Okay, how do I take this kind of raw seething energy and actually use it in a direction that is a little bit more productive?” And I’ll tell you, when it comes to the sleep part, so sleep better, I do think because pressure is energy, if we are carrying a ton of that around, it does make the sleep thing a little bit more difficult. And so, our ability to pulse to kind of channel and allow the energy from pressure to help us perform, but then to be able to get into a state where the energy dissipates, I think that’s really important.

And this, to me, goes to the flipside of what we were talking about with uncertainty. So, we talked a lot in uncertainty around, “How do I take direct action to eliminate uncertainty?” That’s the whole notion of finding your serve. I actually think one of the failure modes that high-performers get into is because direct action can be so effective in peak pressure moments, it becomes the default mode of action. We try to just take action on everything. And one of the certainties of life is that we cannot eliminate all uncertainty. We are all on our way to both triumphs and tragedies and everything in between that we cannot foresee, we cannot predict, we cannot prevent.

And so, a big part of the sleep better at night for me is we got to recognize, when it comes to uncertainty, that, yes, we need to act to tame uncertainty where we can, we also have to be able to get to a place where we can embrace the uncertainty that we can’t tame. And for that, that’s really a bit of a mindset thing. And it’s a mindset, as I talk to people that are really good at this, who just seem to be able to come to peace with the fact that there is uncertainty, it’s really about cultivating two things.

The first is, “I have to get to a place where I accept that the future is both unknown and unknowable. I have to get to a place where I can accept that I cannot control the future no matter how hard I try.” And, actually, a lot of the stories that I heard from high-performers were like about bitter battles that eventually reconcile with them, realize that they couldn’t control everything.

But paired with that belief is it almost feels like a bit of a paradox but we have to pair that belief that the future is uncertain and unknowable with the belief that everything will work out as it should in the end. And that belief is really about having a patient faith in the future. And I think it’s that one in particular that, A, is harder to get to in a period like COVID, and, B, is the one that actually allows you, if you go right back to the question, that’s what allows me to get to sleep at night, is I can get genuinely to a place where I go, “At the end of the day, things will work out.”

And I think that the critical distinction here, for me, on this one, and I get pushed a lot on this one, both by people who read early drafts of the book and people whose opinion I really trust, who said, “Listen, things don’t always work out.” And that’s true. There are lots of situations where we don’t get the Hollywood redemptive ending, we don’t get the outcome that we wanted, and, yet, I talked to hundreds of people about the most pressure they’ve ever been under, and without fail, they talk about how the situations worked out.

They talked about the fact that they learned something about themselves that was really useful later on. They built confidence that they never had before. It forced them to make a tough decision that they’ve been delaying. It brought them closer to other people. It uncovered an inner strength that they weren’t aware of. Like, they inevitably talk about how, even if it didn’t go the way they expected, it worked out.

And so, I think the really important part for me here is we have to get to a place where we don’t lose faith that things will work out in the end, while being open to being surprised by how they work out. Like, opening ourselves up to the fact that they might work out a little bit differently. And so, I think that that’s what makes uncertainty so challenging, Pete, is it’s this double-edged sword of, “I got to find my serve and act aggressively where I can to limit uncertainty, and I’ve got to get to this place where I go, ‘I can’t control everything and that’s okay because it’s going to work out the way it should in the end.’” That’s where the ability to kind of sleep a little better at night comes from.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. That’s powerful stuff. And, now, I would like to hear, when it comes to pressure being the solution, you mentioned more records are broken at the Olympics than anywhere else and you said it’s because of the pressure. You actually worked with Olympians so you would know. I guess, my first thought was, “Was it because of the pressure or was it because they’ve precisely timed their training to peak at this moment when the gold is on the line?” And so, I guess there’s probably both are drivers. But, tell us, how can we, in a pressure-filled moment, do extraordinary exceptional things above and beyond what we’re capable of during normal circumstances?

Dane Jensen
Yeah, I think you kind of got there. It is a bit of an and. I think when you’re trying to be the absolute best in history at something, it has to be a combination of both, “I have trained in a way that I am going to be at my peak when it matters most, and I have to be able to take advantage of the energy that is going to accompany performing on the Olympic stage. It is just a different thing than other stages. There is a different level of scrutiny. There’s a different level of importance. There is a different level of volume.”

So, when you talk to elite athletes, they will talk about the pressure that accompanies an Olympic performance. And I think this is one of the misconceptions that some people have about pressure, which is that getting “good at pressure” is about eliminating that feeling of profound discomfort that accompanies pressure. That’s not the case. You talk to anybody, I don’t care who they are, they will tell you that this stuff is unbelievably uncomfortable.

Wayne Halliwell, who’s a great sport psych up in Canada here, he talks about this notion that it’s not about getting rid of the butterflies. It’s about getting them to fly in formation. Pressure is uncomfortable. When we are in peak pressure moments, it is not a place that is particularly enjoyable. So many Olympians I talked to will talk about the 10 minutes, the 30 minutes before they’re going, “Why do I do this? Why do I put myself through this?” Like, they’re fantasizing about just escaping from the pool.

It’s an uncomfortable experience and the energy that makes it so uncomfortable, “If I can get control over how am I framing this from an important perspective? Am I able to both see that this matters to me and recognize that this isn’t a referendum on my life? Like, this doesn’t determine whether I’m a failure as a person or not. Can I take direct action? Do I feel like I’ve done everything I can to control what I can control? And have I got myself to a place where I can accept that there is uncertainty that I can’t tame, that I might fall, that a competitor might just happen to peak that day?”

“And if I ruthlessly control the volume that could distract me from my performance, have I cleared out all the distractions that could take me away from…? When I’ve done those three things, that’s what gets me in a position where the butterflies can fly in formation. I still feel that way but I go in with confidence as opposed to overwhelm,” and that’s when things kind of click when we listen to people describe those experiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And so then, if we’re not getting on an Olympic stage, but we’re feeling the pressure, are there any particular actions or practices or reframes that are super effective in terms of accessing the superpowers?

Dane Jensen
So, I said a little earlier, the attention is like a spotlight. I think the best way to think about getting good at pressure is to think about attentional control, which is, at the end of the day, my ability to direct that spotlight, to not have the spotlight just direct me, like I’m just kind of beholden to whatever kind of catches my attention, and I can’t act on it, when we train that ability to direct the spotlight of our attention, that’s when we start getting good at pressure.

And, as we discussed, sometimes that is about I got to put the spotlight on, “Why does this really matter to me?” Other times I got to direct the spotlight to, “What’s actually not important about this to me?” Sometimes I got to direct the spotlight to, “What can I control? What’s my serve?” Other times, I got to direct the spotlight to, “What is the uncertainty that I can’t tame, and the fact that, at the end of the day, this is going to work out?”

So, that attentional control is really at the heart of this for me. And the best way to redirect the spotlight is questions. Questions are attentional anchors. So, peppered throughout the book are just, “What are the questions that I’ve heard from people that really work for me but also work for others?” So, those are questions like, “What’s not at stake? What’s my serve in this situation? What’s my average? What can I count on here?”

We want to have our own bank of, “What are the little attentional cues that work for me personally to direct that spotlight in a way that’s productive, to get me anchored on something that’s going to actually help under pressure, as oppose to lead me down the garden path?” And so, my most kind of practical advice for listeners is to start to know, use the ones that I’ve kind of just said as a starter list, but gather the questions as you go that help you when you’re moving into your peak pressure moments, because those questions are like little nuggets of gold. The little attentional anchors that put you at your best, those are the things that you want to carry and start to embed in your routines as you’re heading into high-pressure situations.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. I love those questions and the notion of training the ability to direct the spotlight of your attention, and questions are huge for that. Some of my other favorites are, “What’s great about this? And what’s one thing I can do to make this better?” We had Dr. Ellen Reed talk about relentless solution focus with that kind of question, and it’s beautiful.
And, also, the phrase training the ability to direct the spotlight of your attention. That sounds like what mindfulness meditation practices do. Any thoughts on those?

Dane Jensen
Yeah, 100%. I think mindfulness meditation is like going to the gym. Every time your attention wanders and you bring it back to center, you’re practicing attentional control. So yeah, absolutely. That is a very related practice and it’s one that can 100% enhance your ability to do this under pressure.

Pete Mockaitis
So much good stuff. Thank you Dane.

638: How to Build Unhackable Focus with Kary Oberbrunner

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Kary Oberbrunner says: "The victor, the one that is unhackable, says, 'I happen to the world.'"

Kary Oberbrunner shares expert strategies for bringing your attention back to what matters most.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The wrong and right ways of dealing with task overload 
  2. The three components of deliberate magnetic focus 
  3. The two triggers of flow state

About Kary

Kary Oberbrunner is CEO of Igniting Souls. Through his writing, speaking, and coaching, he helps individuals and organizations clarify who they are, why they’re here, and where they should invest their time and energy.  

Kary struggled to find his own distinct voice and passion. As a young man, he suffered from severe stuttering, depression, and self-injury. Today a transformed man, Kary equips people to experience Unhackability in work and life and share their message with the world. He believes the most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. His vision is to ignite 100 million souls by 2030. 

Kary lives in Ohio with his wife, Kelly, and three children: Keegan, Isabel, and Addison. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Kary Oberbrunner Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Kary, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Kary Oberbrunner
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I‘m excited to dig into so much of what you’ve got to say. First of all, though, I want to hear about your connection to the Shawshank Redemption movie.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yes, that is a fun tip. So, I was in a day job for a long time and it felt like a prison, and I remember watching Shawshank one evening, thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I relate to that.” So, quick story, basically, I was writing on the side and I finally did get out of that day job, and I said, “You know what, lots of people are asking me, “How?” so I’m going to write a book called Day Job to Dream Job. And the Shawshank prison is the day job. Zihuatanejo, where eventually, Andy goes at the end of the movie is the dream job, and I’m going to write the book.

And so, I started Googling where the heck was Shawshank prison. And I’m not from Ohio originally but it was The Ohio State Reformatory, and I said, “Man, I’m driving 90 minutes up to nowhere.” I found it and, basically, told the workers what I was doing and that I wanted to write a book in Andy’s prison cell on Day Job to Dream Job, and they’re like, “Sweet! Here’s the wi-fi password.”

And so, I ended up writing a good amount of the book in Shawshank prison. And then, a year later when we launched it, they heard about the story, the celebrities came back, and, sure enough, the warden, Bob Gunton, we launched Day Job to Dream Job at Shawshank prison together.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. Well, so…

Kary Oberbrunner
It’s pretty crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
“So, I want to work out of a prison cell,” and they’re like, “Yeah, you got it.” So, there’s no fees or protocols. It’s just like, “Yeah, sure thing,” but…

Kary Oberbrunner
Exactly. Well, it’s no longer like a functioning prison. It’s more of a museum now but, evidently, they trusted me. And now I actually train their board of directors once a year on leadership, so it’s a crazy full circle.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. Well, I’m excited to talk about one of your latest works, Unhackable. Great title. What would you say is perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made about us, humans, and how we pay attention these days when putting together the book?

Kary Oberbrunner
I’ll tell you what, I wrote a fiction book called the Elixir Project in 2016 about a future society where people’s brains get hacked, and that was my first stab at fiction. And when the book came out, people said, “Man, this is not just a fiction book. Like, this is happening.”

And so, they kind of said, “Turn this into a nonfiction book for people in the workforce, in business.” And so, basically, I did a ton of research and found out that a hack is basically when someone or something gains unauthorized access to a system or a computer. And think back to biology class, and sure enough, we were made up of pulmonary, circulatory, respiratory system so our bodies are like systems and our brains are like supercomputers. So, in a real way, humans are getting hacked anytime we get distracted from our ultimate destiny, our dream. And the distractions are crazy big these days, and I’m sure we’ll get into it. It’s a pretty fun topic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, unauthorized access, that’s sticking with me here.

Kary Oberbrunner
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that almost implies a hacker or a…Actually, I love the podcast the Darknet Diaries, it’s all about hackers.

Kary Oberbrunner
Sweet.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what do they call it, a threat actor, I think is the term they use a lot, whether that’s a nation or a company or an individual, kid in the basement. A threat actor is kind of getting unauthorized access into our heads, but sometimes it’s us.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what’s a universe of threat actors that are kind of the big culprits of hacking our systems?

Kary Oberbrunner
It can be a lot of things. Unsexy hacks are just laziness or Netflix or these types of things, but, in a real way, the human species is now wired to crave distractions. We know from all the psychology that distractions produce a break from stress, and we know that smartphones create dopamine and addictions. So, I’m all for technology; I love technology.

However, human knowledge, once doubled every thousand years, so think about that. It took, essentially, from the years zero to 1500 to double human knowledge. And then the next time was 250 years, and it kept going and going. And, now, we live in a world today where every 12 hours human knowledge is doubling, and so we can no longer keep up.

Our ancestors made a handful of decisions a day back not too long ago. Today, we make 35,000 decisions. And so, we literally wake up with this limited attention, and throughout the day we dip into that and we create what’s called decision fatigue so that, at the end of the day, we’re saying things like, “I’m burnt out. I’m running on fumes. I’m on empty.” And, in a real way, we can no longer keep up with the amount of stress and distractions that are in front of us today.

Pete Mockaitis
When we talk about human knowledge doubling, is that kind of like the printing press or like unique content published? Is that what you mean by knowledge?

Kary Oberbrunner
Everyone has become a publisher. Everyone has become a content creator. We used to have gatekeepers where you would try to get a record out, you would try to get your thoughts out and be printed in the paper. We now have YouTube. We all are our own TV station, press release system, newspaper. We’re literally producing mountains and mountains of information not to mention computing, AI, I mean, you name it. It’s just an exponential curve.

And our brains haven’t upgraded. So, technology has upgraded but our brains have not. And not only that, Pete, but we now have new terms. Digiphrenia. So, schizophrenia was multiple personalities, this type of thing. Well, digiphrenia is a legit term that basically means that we exist in multiple places at once in the digital space.

So, most people have a Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, and so now, not only am I existing right now, Pete, but online I have a persona that’s existing that may be getting tweets and maybe getting comments. Not only that but you have the stress of trying to be consistent on all platforms at once. And so, there’s a tearing of the mind that happens. It’s literally a stress.

And not only that, the average person touch, clicks, taps, swipes their smartphone 2600 times a day according to dscout. We now have five hours a day but this is on screens, but it’s in 30-second bursts, so, not to mention COVID and kids now doing online school. Again, technology is not the enemy, but I’m saying technology used to be a tool that we used. Now, we’re the tool that technology is using.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s heavy stuff.

Kary Oberbrunner
It is heavy. It’s kind of like The Matrix, only real.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned psychological research. Could you share some striking stories or studies or evidence, bits, that kind of lay out – well, you dropped the numbers already, which is intriguing – in terms of like the state of play right now? And then what’s really possible if we take on some practices to become unhackable?

Kary Oberbrunner
Absolutely. So, right now, we have so many things going at us that a lot of us have adapted the lie of multitasking. And people get confused about multitasking, they say, “Surely, I can mow the lawn and listen to an audiobook. See, that’s multitasking.” Multitasking, we’re actually talking about doing two cognitive things at the same time. And so, therefore, it’d be like me trying to do a podcast with you right now and checking email and check my Instagram. When we do that, it’s not multitasking; it’s switch-tasking, our IQ drops 40 points, so it’s literally like being stoned.

And so, most of us, throughout the day, let’s be honest, we walk through the day stoned. And we do what’s called attention residue where part of my brain is still on the Instagram, part of my brain is on the email, part of my brain is with you. And not only is that productivity destruction but it’s relationship destruction. There’s a new term now called fobbing, not snobbing, where you’re trying to talk to me and I’m blowing you off or whatever, you’re blowing me off.

Now, when we’re talking with people, we’re looking at our smartphones. And this presence of relationship is now a thing of the past, and you can tell. I’ve got to do business on Zoom. You can tell when someone is watching or you can tell when someone is checking something else and something else, and it’s literally redefining the way we do relationships.

Kary Oberbrunner
But there is good news. There is good news.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us then, sort of, ultimately, how do we become unhackable?

Kary Oberbrunner
How do we become unhackable? I love it. So, here’s the thing, in the book, I break down unhackability into three things. I’ll give you the three easy-to-remember words and then we’ll bump it out a little bit. But it’s literally idea, focus, and flow. That’s what unhackability is: idea, focus, and flow. Notice it’s knowing, being, and doing.

So, to stress that a little bit more, it’s flawless idea anatomy, so we talk about, “How do you create flawless ideas?” and there’s four components. Then we go into deliberate magnetic focus, and there’s three focus filters. We’ll get into that. And then optimal human performance – flow. And so, certainly people will have read books or heard books on just flow, like Steven Kotler is kind of the grandfather of flow; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist. There’s been books on flow, there’s been books on focus, and then there’s been books on ideas, but, truly, an unhackable person is one who leverages all three.

And I’ll tell you why this is so important, because, as kids, we grow up saying a weird word; we said, “Abracadabra” anytime we wanted something magical to happen. We didn’t know what the word meant but we said it. The word actually means “I create as I speak.” I create as I speak. People who have faith, very interesting, it even gets crazier. It’s made up of three Hebrew words. Abba, which is father, and so it’s Father-Son-Spirit, Abracadabra. Really crazy interesting stuff.

In the faith tradition, it says that “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” In other words, Abracadabra. I believe that we’ve been created to dream and do, ideate and implement, and that is our divine destiny. And when we’re doing that, we’re actually living out our calling. But, unfortunately, most of us dream, then we get hacked. We ideate, and then we get hacked; we don’t implement.

So, to your point, let’s talk about focus filters. Yeah, focus filters is one component of how to become unhackable. I, basically, break down focus filters into three of them: urgency, agency, and energy. So, most people, your great listeners, they probably have a dream, they probably have a desire, but, unfortunately, we always get hacked until we apply those focus filters: urgency, agency, and energy.

So, just to give you an example, it’s a beach example. If I go out to the beach, I got a bald head, I can burn in about three hours, or I can burn in about three minutes. What’s the difference? A magnifying glass.

Pete Mockaitis
Ah, sunscreen.

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah, that’s right. A magnifying glass. So, same sun, same skin, but a magnifying glass, or what I call a focus filter, it amplifies the energy. So, it takes all that energy from the sun and puts it into a laser beam where you burn a whole into your skin. Or, in the metaphor we’re using, you burn a whole into your dream. You take that dream that you have where you keep getting hacked, and you, essentially, narrow your focus.
Urgency is that focus filter. So, what I mean by that is we need a deadline. Every dream needs a deadline. And think back to school days, Pete, remember when the professor assigned something on day one? When did most people actually do the assignment?

Pete Mockaitis
The night before.

Kary Oberbrunner
The night, Pete, you nailed it. A deadline amplified the energy. In other words, it said, “We’re going to get so focused. We’re going to get laser-focused.” Why? Because there’s a cost. If you don’t complete the assignment you get a bad grade. Well, what I’ve realized is that urgency is one of these amazing things, just like physical healthcare, what makes it super important? You put the word urgent in front of it. Urgent care. Now, all of a sudden, you get rushed, you get seen fast. Why? Because there’s a cost. Most of us do not have a cost attached to our dream, or a deadline. Those two components – deadlines and costs – make urgency work for us and become unhackable.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m intrigued then, I think of deadlines, they are often associated with other people in terms of it’s like closing a house or whatever. It’s sort of like the lawyers, the realtor, the somebody said, “This is when this has to be in.” And so, when you think about our own dreams, how do we effectively harness a deadline so that there does seem like there’s a real cost? Like, if I do some work on a project tomorrow, I could do it the next day or the day after. How do I get urgency to be real and the cost to be real?

Kary Oberbrunner
Just to give you some client examples, I had one client who kept blowing off his weight dream, like, “I want to get down to a certain weight. I want to get down to a certain weight,” and he just struggled and struggled and struggled. Finally, he said, “Okay, I’m going to put a real cost behind this.” And I won’t tell you which political party he hates but he hates a certain political party so much that he said, “I will write out a check right now for $1,000 to the political party that I hate. I will put it in an envelope, I will put a stamp on it, and it will sit on my desk, and if I do not lose…” and this guy was a pretty big dude, “…if I did not lose 50 pounds by this day, that check is in the mail.”

I’ll tell you what, first time in his life he ever did it. He lost the weight because it, suddenly, was a real cost, which not just was a $1,000 but a “$1,000 to a political system that I do not like,” it was big enough. And I don’t know what people’s cost is but it needs to hurt. In other words, Pete, it needs to hurt so much that doing the dream is easier than paying the cost.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. There’s an episode of Nathan For You, it’s a comedy show, it’s kind of ridiculous that kind of explored this concept. You might enjoy that episode if you haven’t seen it.

Kary Oberbrunner
I might. I might, after you quote that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s intriguing. And I wonder if people are like, “Oh, I wouldn’t trust myself to actually do it.” I mean, you could sort of entrust that with a friend who happens to have the opposite political party affiliation.

Kary Oberbrunner
He did. He did. He told me.

Pete Mockaitis
And they’ll be eager to give it to that side. But then, also, they’re your friend so they’re not going to just sort of make a $1,000 of yours disappear without your consent.

Kary Oberbrunner
Exactly. Exactly. But that’s one example. But here’s another thing, Pete, it really becomes a mindset change. Unhackable people are victors, and hacked people are victims. And this is not my own but I love it, it’s a great illustration. Victims say, “The world happens to me.” Now, I’m not talking about victims of trauma or this type of thing, but I’m saying a victim mindset. So, a victim says, “The world happens to me.” And what happens is they often lie in bed – blame, excuses, and denial.

The victor, the one who’s unhackable, says, “I happen to the world.” These are people that put their quote “Oar in the water,” O-A-R, ownership, accountability, and responsibility. So, they literally take accountability for their lives. They literally are responsible. They take ownership. It’s not just a nice acronym. This is the difference between Capt. Sully on the flight. He didn’t ask the Canada geese to hit the propeller, but when Jeff, his copilot, was flying the plane, Sully said the magic words, “My plane.” And Jeff said, “Your plane.”

In other words, he took ownership, accountability, and responsibility. He took over that bird strike because he was unhackable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that’s one way to make a deadline real. Let’s hit the agency and the energy. How do we crank that up?

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah. Agency, I’ll give you an example. When I get my oil changed at the dealer, I suddenly walk into their agency. Let me explain.

Chairs, magazines, Donahue is on the TV, or something crazy. In other words, I walk into their space and it’s their agency. Many people have that reality. In other words, no judgment, but when I fly on an airplane and look to the person next to me, they’re bored as heck, they’re flipping through the magazine, they’re busting out their phone.

Listen, if you got a dream, you’re not chilling like that. And I’m not saying you always got to be working, but I’m saying that, in the book we talk about what’s called your boon. Your boon is your deepest desire, your greatest ache, your truest longing. It comes from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Luke Skywalker, Neo, Katniss Everdeen, Hunger Games, Star Wars, you name it, Matrix. The hero’s journey is all about leaving the ordinary world, meeting a mentor, refusing the call, going into this special world, facing the giant, we think it’s external, it’s really ourselves or the ones who hack ourselves most of the time. But then, after we defeat the giant, we essentially get the boon. The boon is the holy grail. The boon is the elixir.

Let me say this, Pete. We don’t care if we get hacked until we know our boon. So, in other words, when I don’t know my boon, I’m like, “Hey, come on, Netflix, come on, XBOX, come on, all distractions in the world. What’s going on, on TV?” In other words, I actually purposely try to distract myself because it gives me this pseudo-purpose. But a someone who knows their boon, man, they are fighting for that. And that’s what really kicks us into unhackability, is knowing our boon.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so how do you recommend we get some clarity and specificity on our boon, our deepest desire and calling and such?

Kary Oberbrunner
Well, I do have a free download, no email opt-in required. It’s at UnhackableBook.com, and if they click Resources, there’s 83 questions that gets you started, and these questions are fun. One question is, “What’s one thing you would regret not doing before you die?” It’s deep questions. It’s questions that you don’t just address every single day, but these are deep questions.

And what we begin to see is this melody line. It often doesn’t come just in one lightning bolt. It often comes with, I say, dream recovery, not dream discovery. In other words, your show is great and it probably talks about how we need to recover our dream. In other words, if you ask most kids, I’ve never met a young kid who said, when you ask them, “What do you want to be when you get older?” “Oh, I don’t know. I have no clue.”

I think we are born with this innate sense, maybe not exactly, but in the ballpark. Like, some people just say, “I know I was born to be on the stage.” Now, they might’ve thought the stage was one thing. Or, “I was born to always care for animals.” We lose sight of who we are along the way because we start listening to the voices of others. In other words, other people’s advice hacks us, “Pete, you won’t make money out of that,” or, “That’s not a well-paying job,” or, “That’s not a respectable job.” And, suddenly, we start listening, and that’s another way that we allow other people to gain unauthorized access to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, 83 questions, we can do some exploration, reflection, rediscovery there. And then how about energy?

Kary Oberbrunner
I think clarity…

Pete Mockaitis
What was that?

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yeah, yeah. I was just going to say clarity comes with action. I think that we don’t just sit in a room and wait for the clarity to come. A lot of times we have to work it out, we have to try, we have to experiment. But back to your phrase about energy. Energy is that last focus filter. And energy is super cool, super exciting.

Are you familiar with Twenty One Pilots? Have you ever heard of them? A band?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know.

Kary Oberbrunner
Okay. So, it’s a band, and there’s tons of bands out there so I don’t expect you to know, but the Twenty One Pilots are a band, and I’m just going to use…I like to tell stories to make a point. They come from my hometown Columbus, and they won a Grammy. But, well before they won a Grammy, nobody knew about them. And what’s interesting is you can actually go on YouTube and you can find one of their very first concerts, and it’s pitiful. There’s 12 people and it’s in a basement.

And the craziest thing in the world is that the lead singer is so enthusiastic. Oh, my gosh, like the guy is on fire, and you’re kind of like, “What the heck, man? There’s 12 people in the basement.” He had what’s called an enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the word entheos, God within. This is part of becoming unhackable.

What gets you on a bigger stage is enthusiasm. Most people say to the universe, they say, “Once I’m on a bigger stage…” “Once I have a big platform…” “Once I have a big show…” “Once I have a big business, then I’ll be enthusiastic.” No, no, no, you have enthusiasm, and that’s what gets you on the bigger stage. So, just like you, Pete, just like me, I mean, you’re successful, I’m successful. Why? Because we treated those first five listeners like rock stars. We didn’t say, “Hey, I’m going to overlook those first five listeners. And, some day, when I have a big tribe, a big showing…” No, no, no, this is what unhackable takes. It takes that energy where energy is E-motion. Energy in motion.

Like passion. I love the word passion. I’m into words. I’m a word nerd. But the word passion, very interesting. The ancients define passion not by how much love you had, but by how much you’re willing to suffer. So, that’s why I never understood, “Why was it called ‘The Passion of the Christ’? and there was talk about a cross? What the heck?” It’s because He was willing to suffer for it.

And so, I just want to challenge your listeners. Your boon is something you’re willing to suffer for. I mean, you look at any great person, they had to suffer for their dream and it had a cost. And so, energy is that focus filter where that’s what really helps us become unhackable when we focus urgency, energy, and agency.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the energy is comparable to passion and the willingness to suffer? Is that the key there? And then, I suppose, we get that by successfully tapping into the boon.

Kary Oberbrunner
Absolutely. It comes with clarity. Like, Rosa Parks, she was unhackable, man. Like, you look at her, she says, “I’m not getting up off this seat. Like, I’m not going to,” and she suffered for it. There’s people all throughout history that suffered for their dream. And being unhackable, let’s face it, choosing not to binge on Netflix every day when it’s in front of you, that takes some suffering. Whatever your dream is, we can go through the list, but whether it’s physical, spiritual, mental, relational, this type of unhackability does require a suffering.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so in your book you talk about a 30-day elixir. And so, we’ve talked about a number of things that are important along the way. So, can you maybe share what are some particular real practices or interventions that help us get to, let’s say, the superhuman focus?

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah. So, here’s an example for Day 17. So, right now, there’s a lot of open loops inside your brain and mine. These could be open loops, like, right now, mine is, “Call the plumber because we got a leak upstairs.” It could be, “Mulch the yard.” It could be, “Mail the letter.” It could be, “Buy the birthday gift.” In other words, most of us have this subconscious program that’s running all the time in the background.

Now, we don’t think about it but just like your computer has multiple tabs on it, the more programs, the more browsers, the more tabs, the more time and energy sucked, the RAM goes down. Actually, the available RAM goes down because the RAM you’re using, it goes up. And what I’m saying is that any open loop, any indecision that you and I have, is grinding on our productivity.

So, one of the exercises I have people do, my clients, I say, “Grab a stack of Post-it notes and, literally, write down one per, one task, one open loop, per Post-it note.” And so, what people do is they begin to lay out all these Post-it notes on their desk everything that we just talked about, all the open loops, all the undecided things, because it’s literally leaking their lifeforce, it’s leaking their energy. They’re getting hacked by it.

These are the things we get up in the middle of the night and say, “Oh, my gosh, I forgot to get the dog immunized,” or whatever. Then what we do is we write on a piece of paper, “Do, delegate, and dump.” So, I encourage people to do this, like, literally in their house – do, delegate, and dump. You don’t put delay. Delay is what we always think about, “Ah, I’ll just delay it. I’ll just delay it.” Do means you’re going to do it, delegate means someone else is going to do it, and dump means no one is going to do it.

And what we do is we do this on purpose, this exercise, because what it does is it clears the mind. It literally frees up your RAM. In the book, we talk about the unhackable impact equation. And, sure enough, when you go through this exercise, you begin to free up your brain, and you allow it to have more usefulness for what you’re boon is rather than chewing up all these open loops. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it’s the act of categorizing these that unleashes it or do we actually have to get them all done?

Kary Oberbrunner
First of all, by seeing them written down automatically takes them from being internal to external. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed and I don’t even know why I feel overwhelmed. I’m just like, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a lot to do.” And if you actually slow down and say, “Well, what are those things to do?” this is the exercise. We stop, we slow down, and we allow ourselves to unload this, first of all. It goes from internal to external. Now, I’m looking at it.

The moment something is external, now I can make a decision. The word decide is a Latin word caedere. It has the same suffix as suicide, pesticide, insecticide, genocide, homicide. Decide means to cut off and kill. And so, what does a gardener do to a tree that’s unhealthy with sap going into all of its branches? He cuts them off. He prunes them. In other words, that’s what we’re doing. We’re deciding that, “I’m going to do it.” Or, we’re deciding that someone else is going to do it, delegation. Or, we’re deciding that no one is going to do it, dumping. And you, literally, open up your subconscious mind to focus on your boon. It’s a very cleansing process.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is nice and I’ve done variants of it and it sure does feel great. Let’s hear a piece about flow.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you recommend or what are the sort of your top perspectives on how to get more flow flowing?

Kary Oberbrunner
Flow is amazing. Flow is the optimal state of human performance. It’s the place we all must be in to win a gold medal, but not only that. For those of us who aren’t athletes, it’s where productivity skyrockets up to 500%. It’s where we begin to see pattern recognition. It’s called lateral thinking. So, how do we get into flow? There are flow triggers.

One of the flow triggers, believe it or not, is a deadline. Another flow trigger is novelty. Interesting, novelty. So, what that means is that when we are stuck in a rut, we go through the same route every single day, with the same menu, and the same restaurant, and we sit in the same table. What happens is we begin to go on autopilot. And when we’re on autopilot, the brain is an energy hog and it wants to essentially map out everything through our day so it can conserve energy.

When you are on autopilot, you don’t experience flow. So, how do you interrupt the autopilot? By novelty, by doing things, by going places, by having experiences that you’ve never had before, because the brain has to engage, because there’s an element of surprise, there’s an element of unpredictability. And so, many times people feel in flow when they go travel somewhere.

And so, Pete, to get really philosophical here, we’re in a pandemic. There’s a lot of people that haven’t been able to travel. They’re not experiencing novelty. What’s the result? They’re getting hacked. And then what else is happening? Not to be a downer, but mental health. And in Japan, a few months ago, more people died of suicide than all of COVID the whole year in one month. Why? Because all of this relates.

In other words, unhackable people are people who have flawless idea anatomy, deliberate magnetic focus, optimal human performance. And one of the byproducts is that we get neurochemicals. And so, the neurochemicals are endorphins and norepinephrine and anandamide. All these neurochemicals that are supposed to be happening in our brain don’t happen when we’re not in flow, and that’s why depression is on the rise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, noted and, yet, there are some simple thing that we can do to fix that.

Kary Oberbrunner
Exercise, yeah, all kinds of good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, why don’t you give us the quick bulleted list here? Exercise. What else?

Kary Oberbrunner
So, exercise, sleep, okay? When we starve our brains of sleep, I mean, I get it, but we’re actually not allowing, just like back in the day, all day, I’m older than you, a long time ago, but defragging your computer. Literally, the brain repairs itself in sleep. Margin, where you’re not just blowing out your adrenal glands and cortisol. Eating the right way. Think about it. We call it carb crashes, sugar rushes, caffeine fixes. All of these are essentially altering the chemistry to create a certain type of feeling. Well, we can do that naturally. Community. Having good discussions where time seems to go by like that. Why? Because you’re in flow. And when you’re in flow, there is a time dilation that occurs where it either slows down or speeds up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Kary Oberbrunner
I’ll tell you what, I mean, I think people’s eyes are open now. More and more my clients are saying, “Man, I got hacked last weekend.” And people who don’t know the vocab, they’re like, “What? What do you mean you got hacked?” They’re now aware of it. So, awareness is really the first step. Just, for all the listeners to realize, like, “When did you get hacked? When did you just blow through five hours and you don’t even remember what you did? But you scrolled, these types of things.” And we do have an unhackability assessment. Again, all my stuff to help is free in this area because I just have a passion. I believe that when we are living our calling, when we’re fully alive, that’s our greatest contribution.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kary Oberbrunner
Carl Jung said, “What’s the most damaging thing in the life of a child? it’s the unlived life of the parent.” And that’s a negative, but I view that as a very inspirational quote because it makes me want to live the lived life not the unlived life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Kary Oberbrunner
The current one that I’m digging is, believe it or not, The Psychology of Money. I just finished that. I like it. It reframes the way we think of money.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Kary Oberbrunner
Audiobooks, man. I love them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Kary Oberbrunner
My Peloton.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And is there a key nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate and folks quote back to you frequently?

Kary Oberbrunner
“Show up filled up.” It basically means that you are doing the work internally before you ever step foot into the world every single day, and you attract people, you get clients. Why? Because they’re like, “Something is different about this person.” You show up filled up.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Kary Oberbrunner
I would say go to UnhackableBook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Kary Oberbrunner
I’d say, look, even if you’re not in the right job, your ultimate calling, don’t waste the time. Back to our original thing with Shawshank and Andy, that dude didn’t just sit in prison. He was very resourceful, digging a hole on the side of the prison. So, I just want to encourage people, like, whether you’re in the right job or the wrong job, be all there because it matters.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kary, thanks for sharing the good word. I wish you many, many fun unhackable adventures.

Kary Oberbrunner
Thanks for the amazing interview, Pete.